Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hiking Rock Dunder - Training Day #1

In less than three months, I will be facing one of the biggest physical fitness challenges of recent years.  A fellow photographer, Jim Lamont has asked me to join him on one of his upcoming expeditions. Jim is known for his travels to remote locations in search of amazing landscapes.  Decades of wilderness travel has taken him deep into the Rocky Mountains and into the extremes of nature with places like Baffin Island.  Though we won't be fending off icebergs with sea kayaks, we will be dropped into the Rockies by helicopter.  The expedition will involve living with what I can carry on my back and hiking to just under 10,000ft.  This will be home while we set up our equipment to capture the changing lighting on the incredible snow-covered rock faces that will surround us.  Overnight temperatures will drop to about zero and our shelter from storms will consist of a small tent that weighs in at five or six pounds...small enough to carry on our backs along with all of our gear and food.
The race is on now to get myself into adequate shape to carry 50 pounds of gear on my back across raging streams and up rocky slopes.  I have three months.  

In this blog post, I share the experience of a short journey.  I am doing this as training but it tuns out to be a great photo day.

With my gear packed heavy, I head out.  Though it feels like I'm carrying 50 pounds, it's probably only 30...and another six or seven with tripod in hand.  I will be hiking the rocky path at Jones Falls to the top of Rock Dunder, at about 250 ft above the lake.  Along the way, I make every excuse to use my camera (and to keep my heart from over-revving and suddenly stopping).

Just south of the town of Morton, Ontario there is a small gravel road that takes me to a parking lot where to my surprise, I find a few other cars.  I gear up, strapping my bag to my back, getting my camera and tripod ready and then I hit the trail.  Bright sunlight quickly turns to shaded forest.  Though the treetops are still without foliage, there is still a significant reduction in light from the dense trees.  Wood chips make for a welcoming entrance but soon pass and are replaced by dirt and rock.  The trail reaches the lake and then turns to follow the shoreline.  I am a good 50ft above the water and the combined sights, sounds and smells are a treat.  Birds are whistling.  A light wind shakes the lingering fall leaves that still cling to the odd branch.  The smell of spring that I can only describe as "mud" is thick in the air along with the indescribable smell of a forest.  The blue sky is reflected in the lake below along with sparkling diamonds from the afternoon sun.

At one of my first stops, I sit low with my camera, shooting a stump coming out of the water.  As I turn back, my eye is caught by this little tree with an almost painted rock backdrop.  I quickly drop what I am doing and reposition myself for this shot.

Along a narrow trail that runs about 50ft over the water, small clusters of tiny little flowers are catching the sunlight. I change out my lens to a macro (remember I had 30 lbs of gear on my back), and drop to my belly.  I am sheltered from the ground dampness by a layer of dried fall leaves that crunch beneath me.  I shift for relief from a small stump that is poking me in the side then close in on these delicate flowers that rise up only a few inches from the forest floor.  I think I'll try something different here!  Often, flowers are shot from the top down; especially when they are tiny and on the ground.  But a more unusual side shot results in beautiful bokeh and an image that looks to me like it belongs on a greeting card.

Further along the trail, a steep rock wall is covered in carpet-like moss.  The beautiful glow of green is too much to pass by and I once again make an excuse for a break!  

After a few hours of hiking, I arrive at the summit.  This is my first time to Rock Dunder and I have to say the view is spectacular.  My heart is pounding after the steep ascent and I look forward to sitting for a while and just listening.  There it is...silence; nothing but the sound of a light breeze through the tree tops.  The air is cool but the setting sun still provides enough warmth that I needn't add layers.  

The air is fresh and the scent much lighter than the musky smell of the forest.  There is little up here but rock and sparse trees.  It is peaceful.

It's about 7pm now and the setting sun provides a warm side-lighting that a photographer waits all day for.  My uncertainty of the trails ahead causes me to make use of this light quickly and be on my way.  I'd prefer not to be hiking down the side of a mountain in the dark, and I have to remember that while it might remain light up here, it will soon be dark in the forest below.

Spectacular visibility provides for great photographic opportunities.  I only wish I had a tent to stay for the morning light.  Ah, who am I kidding .. I'd probably sleep right through it!

Turkey vultures circle the area looking for a meal.  They glide effortlessly for huge extents with their wings spread out, catching the rising warm air.  These birds are absolutely huge and incredibly graceful.

With time working against me, I grab my gear and hike down the mountain.  As I pass through the now darkening forest, I am treated to an unbelievable view.  The setting sun, long out of my view, is lighting up the trees along a pond and creating an almost fiery glow that is reflected in the pond.  Darkness or not, I am not missing this!  I hike off the trail and over to the edge of the pond.  I extend the legs of my tripod and set them into the soft black mud that now squishes under my boots.  In only a few minutes, my camera is mounted.  I choose the 35mm Zeiss lens for this job.  Wide enough to capture the scene along with superb colour and sharpness.

As it always is, a photograph is only a hint of the experience.  This scene was pure magic to my eyes and really topped off the day.  

A few minutes later, the gear is again stored and I push on.  I am quite certain that every bend in the trail hides the parking lot just beyond sight...but that was just wishful thinking.  As darkness arrives, I am thinking, "I hope that nobody has messed around with the trail markers!  It could be a long, cold night out here!"

After about an hour of fairly steady moving, I find the welcoming seat of my truck.  I drop my gear into the back seat and then sit.  For just a moment, I just sit.  It feels so good to sit.  Hike number one completed.  A great day and many more to go if I'm going to be able to handle twice the weight, much steeper conditions, a much, much longer hike, not to mention high elevation where oxygen depletion becomes a real problem for someone that isn't conditioned.

Coming up soon on the blog --- If you're interested in tripods, I'll be doing a short review of the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L carbon fibre tripod and the matching BH-55 ball head in the next few days. Check back soon!


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