On a cool Autumn Friday I looked at the weather forecast for the following day and wondered what could be done if it was going to be cold, damp, windy and sunny. The answer was obvious: Go to the mountains to enjoy the fall foliage of New England! Misery loves Co., as they say, and I had a large group of friends rearing to go.
The next morning, we met at 7:45, which just didn’t seem right to the Southern Europeans in the group, myself included. Sacrifices must be made in the name of Art, and I shall endure them. But please don’t expect me not to complain about it, OK?
2.5 hours and 2.5 pit stops later, we arrived at the base of Mount Pemigewasset, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Getting out of the car I quickly realised that wearing shorts had been a bad, bad idea. While Boston had been a sunny 15 ºC (60 F), I was now standing in a cloudy 5 ºC (40 F). Luckily, I had brought a pair of long trousers and a sweater. And a windbreaker. And a rain jacket. Hey, you can never be too prepared when you’re hiking; and you can’t believe the weather man either!
Mount Pemigewasset (also known as Indian Head, because from a distance the summit is said to resemble the head of a Native American) is 780m high (2557 feet) and we would reach the summit via a 2 mile path through a forest of spruce, fir and birch trees, all the while ascending 475m (1557 feet). That’s all fine and dandy, but what I wanted to know was, will there be any good photo opportunities!?
Leaving the busy car park behind we headed up the trail, following the blue marks painted on the tree barks. I quickly realised that being the only obsessed photographer in the group meant I would hike alone most of the time as I was continually being left behind while I tried to get a photo juuuust right. I am generally alone when I go out photographing, so I had never been aware of how time consuming it is to take a photo with the perfect composition, exposure and depth-of-field. Or maybe I’m just slow. On this particular day matters were further complicated when I realised that a back-focusing issue my camera had suffered intermittently in the past had now become permanent. I thought the problem could be the pentaprism, but an agile mind on the Photo.net Pentax Forum later pointed out that the most likely culprit was the mirror. What all this meant is that I had to use guessed manual focus for most of my pictures (every now and again the camera would focus fine, but I never knew how long it would continue doing so). It also means that I will have to send my camera off to Pentax for repair and won’t be taking photos for 6-8 weeks.
In order to not bore you any longer with my sad tales of broken cameras and cold hikes, and because I am well aware this is a photography blog, not a travel literature blog, I will illustrate the rest of the hike through photographs. All were taken with my mercurial K10D and a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8.
First stop: Abstract!
It just wouldn’t be a real foliage photography hike without the lone red leaf on the log.
Just because the tree fell doesn’t mean the lichen has to stop growing on it.
Hey, as long as you’re taking photographs, I don’t care how you do it; you’re in my good book.
If I happen to have slipped and fallen, and had looked up, this is what I would have seen. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Every now and then the Sun would pop out from behind the clouds and create an eerie light in the forest.
At last, we crown the summit and a carpet of multicoloured trees lies at our feet. The only thing missing was my graduated neutral density filter.
Ah…this must be that famous “moment of solitude” that climbers experience when they reach the summit.
Looking to the SSE we can see the majestic river weaving through the valley towards…no, wait, that’s the I93 highway.
Look who hitched a ride to the summit.
On the way down I spot the last surviving leaf at the end of this branch, just as the Sun illuminates it to perfection. All I need is f/4 and a steady hand.
Some action shots on the way down.
Here is a rock monument to commemorate those who have plenty of time on their hands when hiking and are clearly not in a hurry to reach the restrooms at the visitor centre.
Having taken a different route down, the intrepid hikers must walk the line back to the cars.
Aha! So it does look like an Indian Head. Sort of…if you squint your eyes and imagine I could have been bothered to change lenses and use a 300mm instead of 75mm.
It’s disconcerting when you see the best light of the whole day at the edge of the car park as you’re about to leave. Makes you wonder why you hiked for the better part of 5 hours when you could have set up tripod in the car park and called it a day.
The answer is that it’s not about the Photography, and it’s not even about becoming one with Nature or facing the Wilderness. It’s about seeking beauty with your own eyes in places you might never have thought about looking. Watching the sunset light fade off the trees at the end of the car park, my camera now in my bag, I asked myself “would I have even been here to enjoy this wonderful sight had I not toiled up and down the mountain looking for just such a scene?”
I am not a religious man, but I still found myself thinking this was a fitting reward for my day’s effort, a subtle goodbye present from the White Mountains, who wanted to make sure I returned next year.
And I will.