Friday, January 25, 2008

Chasing Sunsets Above Lake George

On my day off for the holiday Monday I decided to change things up. Rather than shoot for a sunset, I'd sleep in and do an afternoon hike of a mountain on Lake Georges eastern shore.

While this area is amazingly close to where I live , really we've only done a handful of hikes in the region over the years. Lots of options on both shores and a short distance beyond including Black Mountain (done in 2001), Buck Mountain, Shelving Rock Mountain, Sleeping Beauty, Cat Head, Crane, and the Tongue Mountain Range (done in 2002). Since I'm headed back to the beautiful Tongue Range in a few weeks I narrowed it down to Sleeping Beauty or Buck Mountain.

photo: Aim and Caney on Black Mountain c. 2003 with Lake George in the background.

Buck Mountain is a 2300ft mountain on the lakes eastern shore, with near 360* views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. Although the 300ft elevation of the trail head gives this hike a respectable 4000ft gain/loss over 6.4 miles, the hike up is downright gentle by northeastern and Adirondack standards. Most of the hike, if not all of it would make for a very fine ski if there is enough snow, and the skiers did not mind the several stream crossings to be navigated. Only the last 200ft or so is very steep (more than a few percent grade with dropoffs).

So I got to the trail head about 2:30pm. After lacing my boots and then deciding with the wind that my little 2.5 tripod would fair no worse than my 9lb tripod, I was off.

I left the snowshoes, there hasn't been much snow, and with the warm spell and rain I was actually expecting more ice. I took my crampons, but never even considered using them.

On the hike up I passed what looks like a nice little rock climb on a detached boulder. I didn't get close, but I snapped a shot of it to remind me to come back. It was a 40ft+ right leaning fist crack that joined up with another fist to off width crack to reach the top of the boulder. There are also a few waterfalls along the trail. In spring I am sure this is a great little hike with kids, or for photographers looking for cascades and wildflowers. I stopped off at 2 of them which in the end probably cost me the sunset from the summit.

The guide book said this approach (the south) was more scenic, and had views, but unless they were specifically talking about winter, I don't see how you could see a thing with the trees in bloom. Not only that, but graded climbs are the pits, I like to feel like I am making progress and switch backs and wide trails make me feel the opposite.

That said, there were great views of the sunset, and it was a beautiful day. The summit is very nice, with great views of the 22 mile Lake George, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the central Adirondacks.

I just got a wind meter to play with, so no more guessing the summit winds after this post, but for this last hike we'll have to go with my guess. I'm thinking 10-15mph with 20+mph gust. Looking at the Glens Falls weather station I probably wasn't far off, and the summits are always windier. In any case, photography at 6*F (-14C) in 20mph gust isn't all that appealing. So I put on my down jacket and worked really fast to get something before I got too cold.

I'd missed the sunset, actually saw it through the trees, and darn it was nice. One thing about sunsets, unlike the sunrise which is anticlimactic, a sunset isn't over till I say it is. And if you are persistent, you can create some really spectacular images that even the naked eye can't see because of the subtleties of the light.

So I took about 20 images (ranging from 1/15s to 1/2s) with my camera on a tripod and a cable release to activate the shutter, while I blocked the wind from hitting the camera. After about 10 minutes we cleared out pretty quick.

I hauled down the descent of the steep rock to get warm, by the time we hit the trees (about 2 minutes) I was toasty warm.

On the hike out the light of the rising full moon was hard to miss. It was casting shadows so strong I was forced to use my headlamp to counteract them. I got to a point where I was thinking about some photo ideas I had which involved a moonlit landscape, a large moon (close to full), and my trusty headlamp. This is all experimental but the results aren't bad for 4 attempts.

The results (20 seconds, f/13, tripod, cable release, headlamp to "paint" light on the tree):

The rest of the hike out was uneventful, other than wishing I had a set of short fat approach skis/snowshoe skis to glide out on.

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