|The Fire Above|
Do I really want to get up?
I could stay home today and maybe go out on Sunday.
But I'm actually off on a weekday, and have the opportunity to go to the mountains avoiding the crowds.
But the bed is so comfortable.
I'm starting to wake up, let's just get up and go
But do I want to go to Hawksbill, or to Big Creek?
Let's start at Hawksbill until the clouds get thick and head out to Big Creek. And, if I get started now, I can stop by Brown Mountain for a sunrise.
Alright....ALRIGHT, I'm getting up!!!
Photography mornings are so much fun when you aren't a morning person. I had a presentation to do for work which made me have to come in on Saturday morning, so I went ahead and took Friday off for a trade day. This meant that I had the opportunity to miss the Spring crowds. The weather was set for increasing clouds through the day, and ultimately showers and thunderstorms. I was really wanting to do some landscape work, but it was looking promising to do some long exposure water photography as well. I decided that both of my intended locations were along the same route, so I would start with the closest one, and shoot a sunrise at Brown Mountain before making the final decision between Hawksbill and Big Creek.
I was on the road shortly before 4am and noted that the sky was perfectly clear above the house. I was hoping that wasn't going to be the case further West because I needed clouds for all of my possible locations today. I decided not to worry about it, and go with Josh Cripps' mantra of "just go". I would get something, even if it wasn't what I had in mind. The trip was uneventful, and lasted right at two hours. I arrived about 45 minutes before sunrise, which was the perfect time. I could see that the clouds were filling up the sky, and it was actually looking quite promising for a great sunrise.
I got the camera put together, opting for the 24-70mm lens since I was going to have a good sky to capture. The longer lens was better for less appealing skies generally. I picked my place along the side of the parking lot, and found a grove of trees that kind of stood out for my foreground. Then it was just a matter of waiting. I would trip the shutter every few minutes as the light show would unfold, wondering if this was as good as it would get.
|Single Mountain Sunrise|
Well, the clouds really worked with me this morning. There was a very small gap at the horizon which allowed the light from the sun to peek through, illuminating the clouds above. As the sun got closer, the sky did some amazing things. Once the sun broke the horizon, the light haze, kept the intensity down, and allowed me to photograph the sun fully in the sky. After stopping the lens down, I was able to capture the beams of the sun as well. I didn't see the brown lights of brown mountain yet again, but this was the best sunrise I have seen here after three attempts at it.
Normally, once the sun would come up, the light would get too harsh, and it would be time to pack it in. However, as I like to do, I started looking around to see what other angles would work with the existing light. I was pleasantly surprised to see so much color in the sky to the North. The compositions were a little bit more difficult in that direction because the interesting features happened to fall above either the brush just beyond the overlook, or the area where the picnic tables and trash cans were. The light was just too good to pass up on though.
I had been eyeing a grove of trees resplendent in their Spring hues. The clouds were dark behind them, and I was hoping that they would catch the warm tones of the rising sun before the clouds covered the sun. I probably looked over to those trees a dozen times and each time, there was nothing to the lighting. I was starting to lose hope, but I did have a composition picked out which creatively cropped the tables and trash cans out of the image. At least that part of the process was taken care of in the event the light played along with me.
I looked around for more potential compositions, but was unable to find anything else as the sky was starting to look rather flat with the sun fully up. I started to ponder my next step. There were a good deal of clouds in the sky, but it looked like they would be clearing up soon. I could gamble that the town of Waterville, was still going to be under mostly cloudy skies, but it was only an hour away, and I feared that there would be much less clouds in the sky than originally though. My best bet was going to be to continue on to Hawksbill and hike around up there for a while. I could do much more up there with less clouds.
When I arrived at the top (and I was tired at this point), the sky was mostly clear above, with haze at the horizon in most directions. I was not seeing this as being a good location for pictures. I wasn't quite sure where to go though. Recalling the weather forecast, I knew that between about 8-9 the skies were going to clear and then the clouds were going to build back up leading to the storms. Since I didn't have any other destination in mind, and I had just hiked the energy out of my legs, I decided to stick around at the top of Hawksbill to wait for the clouds (read as, I was resting).
The clouds did come in, slowly at first. I had settled on starting this session on the low end with my really cool rock formation. Due to the limited area to work with, I decided to keep my trusty 24-70mm lens attached for this subject. By dipping down low, I was cutting out the haze over most of the horizon. The angle allowed me to get some of the more distinct clouds above as well. I set up my shot, and waited for the clouds to move away from the sun so I could get some lighting help on the rocks. I got just the amount of warm lighting that I was hoping to get to balance out the overall cool tones of the scene. I could have just adjusted the white balance, but I wanted to keep the shade as an element on the right side, and needed the blue in the sky to pop as well. With this shot, I was back in business!
|On the Ledge|
|Peeling Back the Layers|
At this point, it was getting close to the midday point where the sun was going to be a bit too harsh. I could hang out here and see what the coming storms would bring, but I decided to take this opportunity to hike back to the 4Runner and make my way to Table Rock instead. The hike down was much faster than coming up, but my legs were really starting to feel the burn from making it a controlled descent. I thought I could hear thunder in the distance, but I wasn't sure. The sky was not looking particularly stormy, and I was actually wondering if I was going to find anything worthwhile at Table Rock.
|Shadows in the Valley|
When I got to the parking area, there were about a half dozen or so vehicles parked which was more than I was expecting, but at least it wasn't full like I would be on a weekend. I went ahead and grabbed the camera and tripod and started over to the trail head. I didn't want to look like a total newbie here so I didn't look at the trail map. The trail was pretty much like I remembered. It was a breeze compared to what I had been on at Hawksbill. When I came to a fork in the trail, I remembered seeing something about several trail systems coming through this area, and started to try and find some indication about which way to go. The sign had been removed, but I could make out where somebody had written on the post "Table Rock --->" in black magic marker. The trail went up, so I figured that was the right choice.
As I continued on the trail, it got narrower, and more technical. My legs were starting to complain a little bit with the elevation changes. I was into an area I didn't think I remembered, but then again, it had been every bit of 10 years since I've been here. There were a couple of areas where I thought I had wondered off trail, but then found blazes just beyond. The more disheartening issue was the fact that I was actually going downhill quite a bit. It seemed that this trail was going away from where I wanted to be. Could the magic marker have been a ploy to fool hikers? Had I fallen victim to a cruel trick to hike to the bottom of the mountain, only to have to turn around and go up to get back to your vehicle? Would the trail suddenly pitch up and get me to the summit? Honestly, I was running out of energy to care too much, but I thought I would give it another five minutes of hiking.
On average, I can hike a mile in about 20 minutes. I had been going for nearly 30 at this point. The summit was supposed to be a mile from the parking area, and even though it had been slow going, I was thinking I should be there by now. I wasn't even going up any more. At 35 minutes, I turned around with my tail between my legs to look for where I made the wrong turn. There were no missed turns, but when I came to the fork, I decided to see what was on the other side. Well, at least it started to go up in elevation, and was going towards a summit.
|Miles and Miles|
I looked at what I had to work with and found that there was a really nice valley below where the Linville River flowed through. There was also a nice jagged outcropping to the right, and a bald in the distance. There was a lot to work with, but I knew I wanted to include the rocky surface I was standing on as the foreground. It was my opportunity to use my superwide angle lens. I mounted my 16-35mm lens, along with an intensifying polarizer before setting up the tripod. I made several very small changes to my position to create different relationships among the elements in the frame. I didn't shoot a lot here, but I got about a dozen images that I thought captured what I was seeing to the best effect.
It didn't take long for the wind to pick up, and threaten to blow myself and my gear off of the ledge. It was time to pack it in. I was tired, and didn't want to do any more hiking. The trip back to the 4Runner was easy enough, and got me thinking that I probably had only gone about a half mile in that 35 minutes I spent hiking before. Could it have been that if I had remained on that same trail, I would have made it to the summit? Probably, but I wasn't lamenting the decision to turn around enough to even look at the map. I was happy with my little jewel of a view that wasn't really planned. Sometimes the accidental finds are better than the ones that are planned out. Of course, another reason that I was not too worried about the map was I was quite thirsty. In my haste to get started, I forgot to grab my water bottle out of the truck. It was calling my name, quite loudly!
It was time to make the return trip down the seven mile stretch of forest road which is very much unmaintained. Terrain like this is why I have always enjoyed having a high clearance 4WD vehicle for my treks. The ruts and unfinished surface was no problem at all for the 4Runner, and it was actually quite restful driving down the road. Once I was back at the highway, I decided to turn left and pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was going to be a little further to get home, but quite a bit more scenic, and due to construction on I-40, would be a quicker route too.
|Early Signs of Spring|
This gave me a little energy seeing the LCD and knowing that I had a winner. I started to look around. I looked at the red barn on the other side of the road, but the sky wasn't good above it, and the lighting wasn't good either. I would have to pass on this for now. I did see another tree in that field which was in full bloom. It even had an interesting trunk structure...but I was unable to separate it from the background trees enough to get the shot. I tried one frame, but without doing some serious post processing on it, there was no way to get it to stick out the way I wanted it to. I passed on that subject as well.
|Turning of the Weather|
By this point, the stormy skies were bringing a bit of rain. I took that as my cue to pack up and continue on my way home. I was done, and my creative energy was tapped. However, in the North Carolina mountains, if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. The weather, and your outlook can change just like that in our mountains. That is what happened. For a brief period, the sky broke, and the sun started to shine down once again. This happened just as I was passing under one of the many stone bridges along the Parkway.
Within in minutes, the rain came back and it was time to pack things up. Have I mentioned how much I like having a hatch that opens up to provide a rain cover while I'm working on packing up the camera? Well, I love it! That was the end of my day. It was about 3pm, and I still had a two hour trip to get home. I was doubting that I was going to get the pictures processed and posted before I needed to get to bed, but I was going to try.
I managed to get the pictures processed, which was no small task considering I had shot nearly 250 frames over my nine hour day. Most of that was capturing different stages of clouds and light of the same compositions. Even so, I came back with 17 images that I thought were strong enough to keep. That was not quite my normal 10% hit rate, but considering I was seriously thinking I would have six or seven images, I am actually quite stoked about the day. It was a great day, and I always enjoy my time in the mountains...especially when I can make it a full day trek!