Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Quest for Sea Smoke

All the extreme cold as of late brought up one of my favorite trips to photograph lighthouses in Maine with sea smoke as a backdrop.  From discovering sea smoke and freezing myself to the core just to get
2 lighthouse photographs is an adventure and a story worth telling.

Portland Head Lighthouse

 The Discovery

It was a warm summer day and I stood on the back porch of Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine seeking shelter from a passing downpour. 

The grey, drab skies weren't quite what I had in mind for one
of my first Maine photos so I strolled into the gift shop.  Wet and a bit chilly I stood there scanning for anything of interest and there it was!  An amazing picture of the light station with an eerie sort of fog that didn't seem like ordinary fog to my discerning eye.  The Shopkeeper looked over and said, "that's sea smoke,  happens only when it's below zero".  That's where it all began, and it's what I'll always remember Marshall Point Lighthouse for.

The Adventure

After a tons of research I found that -10f  (-24c) was the preferred number for a big time sea smoke event.  What I wasn't ready for was the years it took to get those frigid temps right down to the coast of Maine.  I thought it happened every year but it doesn't, at least in Portland.
The long range called for the temps I wanted so I planned my trip. Cold...huh, I laugh at cold, after all I've been in -30 up on the summit of Mt Washington and this would certainly be milder.

I'd take up temporary residence at a kind of shabby place in town, after all I'm on a photographer's budget, and get my gear ready for my pre-dawn departure.  I flew out of bed and into the truck.  I always feel late, probably because I always am, and drive myself crazy on the way over yelling at myself and saying I should have got up earlier...and on and on.

I already arranged to have the gate open to the park where the lighthouse is on Cape Elizabeth.  It was a pleasant surprise to see it open and I flew into the park, up the winding roads to the top of the hill and I saw that I was on time!  What a sight!  I pulled over and ran across a small field to this viewpoint and plopped my tripod into the snow and started to set up the camera.  What a disaster!  My lense fogged, as the camera was in the warm toasty truck with me, and I froze in minutes and had to run right back to my warm, toasty truck.  I find myself running all the time when I do this sort of thing as these events are short lived and I try to maximize my time.   Of course leaving the truck without a jacket and gloves was not one of my better ideas, but I just wanted a couple quick snapsots before I got down to where I really wanted to be.  The truck seemed like a thousand degrees when I got back in to retrieve my jacket and gloves, although this time I left my camera outside to prevent any sort of lense fogging.  I couldn't stay in for long enough to actually warm up as time is of the essence and quickly ticking away.  I ran back to my spot still cold and took a couple quick photos.  I still had to remove my gloves to properly operate my camera and that was a bit painful to already cold hands.  Back in the truck,  camera sort of hanging out the window,  to stay cold, it was a 30 second drive to the lower lot.

Running out of the truck, again, I'd arrive at my favorite spot. Getting there involves jumping the fence and scaling down those famous Maine Coast rocks we all know and love.  I was so pumped up to get there I didn't realize that my hands continued to get colder even with my gloves on!  So did my body, I could feel the cold coming through all my layers!  It was much different than mountain cold.  This stuff just chilled you to the core!  My stubbornness would never allow me to leave without at least a few images so I set up and mustered up the courage to remove one glove, on my already frozen hand, to operate my camera.  Ouch! instant pain!  My hand really didn't function properly and I didn't get any usable pictures in those few frozen moments.  For the first time in my life I got really concerned about frostbite.  I'd never felt this sort of stinging pain before, and as the cold continued to relentlessly freeze me, I gave up.  Here again I find myself scrambling up the rocks, over the fence and into my warm truck.  Camera outside the door on the tripod, me inside wincing in pain.

Most people have at one time or another felt that warming up pain in our hands when we were kids sledding pushing the envelope for that one more run.  This was much worse....I knew however that I didn't have frostbite as my skin was a shade of deep red and pink, but not black.  It was just a case of the stupids and I'd use this as a what not to do scenario. I'm sure it was the beginning stages of frostbite or whatever but I was pushing though and slowly warming up.  

I sat in the truck, absorbing as much heat as I could, watching the sea smoke sort of rush out of the harbor and swirl and sort of billow up just offshore!  It was so cool, watching the sunrise through the sea smoke, from the warmth of my truck,  not being able to be anywhere but inside.  I couldn't take any pics and sat there in bitter disappointment.  I guess it wasn't so bad as most of the time when I photograph great things, I don't get to enjoy the moment. This time I got to enjoy the moment with no pictures.  The other way is much better.

 Trying to decide if I was disappointed or thrilled with what looked like only 1 useable  image and as if I was in control of the weather a mid layer cloud deck started to roll in from the north, stratocumulus clouds! You see they are the creme de la creme,  chocolate for photographers, the be all end all, well at least for me anyway and I was warm as warm could be by now!  Again I ran from the truck, no jacket, gloves etc....only this time up to the fence a mere 50' from the truck and took a couple images and jumped back into the warmth happier than could possibly be.  I remember thinking, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Portland head lighthouse with Stratocumulus Clouds and sea smoke remnants shown as the little grey line on the right at the horizon in the orange sunlight.

 Lessons Learned

I keep my camera in the cold whenever I work out in the cold and snow, which is as much as and whenever possible.  It never fogs up and snow and blowing snow just bounce off.
I wear mittens in extreme cold with high tech gloves under them so I can take off the mittens and operate my gear with at least one layer of protection.
I use lithium ion batteries that perform well below zero with no loss of power.  NiMH Batteries tend to lose power in minutes unless you keep them warm.
Most important, I've learned to slow down and enjoy the moment doing what I love, so that I can feel and remember it.  That hit me one day in Acadia National Park, you guessed it, in January, at a Lighthouse during EPIC conditions!  That my friends is another story for another day!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Remembering the Mountains....

I found this from a trip I took a few years back and thought to share it now......
for "flatlanders" they are known as The White Mountains of New Hampshire,  for mountain men,  peak baggers and the like,   they are simply known as the Whites.  I waited all Spring down in Ct. to chase winter's finale up to the high peaks of the White's and did that in early June some years back.  I made plans to spend 3 days on some of the toughest terrain the White's have to offer, with my new mountaineering partner,  Kevin,  from NYC.  Arriving at the trailhead around 9:00 am, to a wet, foggy day, we were anxious to get going.  My heart raced as we tramped through a typical late Spring day up here,  42 degrees and rainy,  and began the quest to get above treeline and see if we could find the last signs of winter.  The visibility continued to drop as we gained elevation down to around a couple hundred feet!  It would stay this way for 90% of our entire trip!  Shown below the perfect views shrouded in fog!

Mile after mile I remember thinking, would I ever see anything other than fog and drizzle?  Our route took us up Crawford Path to our first night's lodging,  Lake of the Clouds Hut.  It's the highest hut in the series set up and maintained by The Appalachian Mountain Club.  It's a regular lodge style building, with plenty of bunks and some good hot food.  Don't count on hot showers,  flat screen TV's or heat!  They are however great places to stay with a few conveniences and lots of cool people.  We got our bunk assignments and I decided to summit nearby Mt Monroe before bed.  As I got about halfway up, I could see the sky sort of glowing with a deep dark blue!  I knew the fog was shallow and thought I'd head back down and hope for a few views at first light.  I saw Kevin already in his bunk so I   slipped into my sleeping bag.

My eyes opened up just after 4:00 am and I could barely contain myself!  Looking toward a foggy window I noticed and erie kind of glow and wondered if I'd have those famous views I so longed to see.  I ran to the window, quietly and wiped the fog,  but it didn't help much as the windows were fogged inside and out, which meant the temp inside was the same as out, around 40 degrees!  I was up and looked around the bunk room to find any willing takers for a trip to the summit of Mt Monroe,  but no open eyes, just a whole lot of snoring!  Yup, a solo mission to the summit!

I reached for my gear and quietly crept out of the room,  and made a mad dash to the main dining area,  got dressed and flung the door open.  I stood there in disbelief,  the fog was thicker than ever!  I walked over to the corner of the cabin and looked up and asked,  why?  Minutes later the sky just opened up!  I looked to the left and there it was,  Mt Monroe,  in all it's glory, and I thought...I gotta get up there,  quickly,  very quickly.  I bolted for the summit,  tripod in hand,  and scrambled up the 500' vertical feet or so in minutes!  I stood there exhausted, and in awe over what I was looking at, undercast!  There was a sea of fog and all the mountain tops looked like islands, and I stood atop one!  I began to take photographs and remembered why I love this place so much.  As the fog filled back in, I had only a few minutes as the "emperor" of Mt Monroe, but it's a few minutes I'll never forget.  The rest of the trip remained in fog but to this day it remains one of the best!

I enjoyed being the Emperor of Mt Monroe!

This is the amount of snow on Mt Washington in early June!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The First Snow

The first snow came a bit early this year.  It had a few similarities to the famous October Snowstorm of 2011.  Seeing leaves on the trees with snow stuck to them reminded me of having no electricity for 5 days!  This storm however was just a friendly reminder, with all the beauty and no loss of electricity!

I stumbled upon this scene one fall day cutting through the backroads avoiding traffic.  Stopping for just a few mins, I made a few mental notes on what I'd like to see to take a perfect photograph of a very beautiful place.  Time of year, color of light, lack of wind,  whatever I could imagine to make a perfect image.  Sort of an artist that has to wait for mother nature to paint the earth, and then run down with my camera to burn it to my image sensor!!

I envisioned a chilly fall morning, peak foliage, a little mist rising off the water, completely calm, full reflection, quiet wind, only to hear my tripod rustling through the reeds to get set up before the warm, diffused sunlight gets to bright.  I'd check once or twice to no avail.

Peak foliage ended and I'd archive it, thinking, maybe next year.  When I woke up on the 12th of November, I jumped out of bed and headed right to this spot.  I had a hard time getting there as around every corner was another amazing winter scene.  I managed a few great compositions and thought I'd return to this place many times in the future.

Thanks Mother Nature, for exceeding my expectations...again!!