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Jan 4 2012

2011 Resolutions | Hiking & Photography

At the stroke of midnight on January first, photographers and hikers alike found themselves visualizing their New Year commitments, resolutely along with millions of others. Most will resolve to lose weight or to quit a bad habit. Others will swear off the ritual all together, and truth be told this is the path I normally take. This year, however, after a lot of thought I’ve decided to join the masses and make a few resolutions related to my inner hiker and photographer. And since research tells us that one of the best ways to keep true a resolution is to share it with others, here my five commitments for 2012 in no particular order:

Hike More, Hike Better, Hike Different

At the conclusion of 2011, I didn’t feel as though I hiked enough. But then again, I suppose I’ll never feel as though I’ve hiked enough. So plain and simple, I need to hike more. Likewise, I was a tad slower this year than I have been in years past. Hiking less meant that I filled my time with other activities that are less physical in nature than hiking, so I lost a little bit of the pep in my step. So I feel I could stand to hike a little better. I also found myself visiting a lot of “old friends”, as I call them; places that I’ve to been many times before but find myself returning to for their photographic appeal and epic mountain character. While this is not a foul by any means, it is a boundary that could hold my horizons static, and stifle my exploration of new and enchanting places. As I often tell people, New Hampshire is full of surprises and places worth discovering firsthand. This year, I plan to adopt a Red-Liner’s Philosophy to hiking, meaning that I’ll open up to exploring every mile of every trail without exception. More, better, different.

Study and Read the Work of More Photographers & Writers:

Although I thrive behind the camera, I simply haven’t taken enough time to study the work of other artists. Along those same lines, I write avidly and intently, but I would not consider myself well read. By and large, I am an evolving artist like all other artists, and studying the work of others is a fantastic way to grow one’s own craft. There is an expanding body of knowledge out there for me, and with the ubiquity technology it’s right at my fingertips. I’m starting to crave it, and this year I will seek it out.

Add More Human Elements to My Photographs:

Very few of my photographs include humans, which is not necessarily a bad thing. New Hampshire’s landscapes can do a lot of the speaking for themselves in a photograph. However, some photographs lend themselves well to having human guests. Whether it is to show movement, struggle, or scale, the human element could bare to find its way into a few more of my photographs. I plan to do this more throughout the year.

Experiment With Abstracts:

Otherwise known as painting with the camera, there are delightful ways to create photographs that resemble abstract works. This is done by finding very small subject matter that appear painterly when shot with a macro lens. Abstracts can also be created by moving the camera, finding subjects in motion, and playing with the shutter speed. Each of the four seasons presents opportunities for abstracts, and I’m making it a point to look more closely for those chances.

Complete the Presidential Traverse in One Day:

This one speaks mostly for itself, and requires very little explanation. I bagged the Pemi Loop in 2010, and it’s time for another Death March. The Presi Travers, as it’s known colloquially, consists of over 25 miles of one way hiking that brings travelers over each of the mountains in the Presidential Range. In one day. It’s a grueling trek, and one that can be quite dangerous in the winter. My plan is to aim for a winter pass, and if I can’t do it by the last day of winter in 2012, I’ll shoot for the first days in December later in the year. By and large, the Mountains make the call on whether or not the Presi Traverse is a success, so one must be utterly cautious with such a goal.

Mount Washington

Mount Washington and the Southern Presidentials

Hopefully you’ve made a few resolutions connected to the things that are important in your life. And if you haven’t, perhaps you’ve found this list useful or motivating. No matter what, remember to stay well and take full advantage of all the natural magnificence that New Hampshire has to offer. Take care, and thanks for stopping by my New Hampshire landscape photography and hiking blog!

Nov 9 2011

The Hiking Dialogues

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” — Greg Child

Ethan Pond Sunrise

November Ethan Pond Sunrise

Although I spend copious amounts of time and energy hiking, creating New Hampshire landscape photographs and writing reflectively about the mountains, I fully admit that there is a conversation of an entirely different magnitude going on around the world. The media refuses to let us ignore the plight of the economy, of wars, and of disease. But by and large, I submit that something dramatic happens to our perspective when we make our way into the woods and when we plod upward onto mountaintops. Something that is a part of us, let’s call it the minutia for lack of a better word, gets stripped away clean, allowing something far more essential from within to eventually surface. There is no clear transition, or verifiable “point” at which this happens, but more or less it is gradually brought on; by fresh air, by the labor of an uphill climb, and perhaps by the very nature of simple surroundings.

The mind wanders, though this drifting is not at all aimless, and an internal dialogue manifests that at times leads to profound benchmarks in our lives. In the company of others, these conversations might unfold aloud and you may find yourself talking about politics, love, or even about God(s). These are exchanges that could never happen in quite the same way under fluorescent lights, within the cubicle cages, or at a summertime barbecue.

Furthermore, when you find occasion to pause, perhaps at a peaceful rivulet or on top of a ragged precipice, and really take a good look around once the mind has been stripped of the minutia, a true sense of our smallness and our insignificance sets in; or perhaps it’s that the universe is simply incredible, and immense beyond comprehension. Whichever way you look at it, you come to realize that although you may be but only a brushstroke in the fresco, life is at once incredible, and incredibly complex. In large part the complexities arise because of the meaning that we add to the existing physical world. It is at this point that the hiker’s dialogue proves to be important; just as much so as other, more ubiquitous conversations. I know that it seems tough to resolve worldly matters and the discourse of a couple of sweaty hikers as being similarly important; but it’s easy if you try. By and large, this reflection, this reflexivity, this resolution…is part of what makes us human.

While hiking and camping out near Ethan Pond with a good friend this weekend, I was again privy to the treasure of this hiking dialogue. As is always the case, it seems that I’ve come out of the woods knowing a little something more about myself, my friend, and life. Furthermore, I have concluded that if this aspect of hiking is ever lost on me, I will have reached a truly unfavorable point in my life.

Ripley Falls in Crawford Notch

Ripley Falls in Crawford Notch

As always, thank you for joining me; do take care, and as colder weather begins to set in we’ll be sure to see you again soon.

Oct 24 2011

Old Friends

Quite some time ago, I slipped into a hearty infatuation with solo hiking. On one of my first solos, I set off to discover the Tripyramids in Waterville Valley. Ignoring the advice of the guidebook, I opted to walk the entire Livermore Road portion instead of “stashing” a mountain bike, which made for about 13 miles of total hiking. I can remember it well; the day was warm and summery, and although the talus slopes on the south slide were thoroughly dry, I was careful and deliberate as I scrambled my way up. I crossed paths with only a few other hikers while lumbering my way to Middle Tripyramid and on to North Tripyramid’s viewless summit. Before long, I arrived at the trail junction to Scaur Ridge and Pine Bend Brook. But to my dismay, the sign, which is normally staked into the ground and supported by a crude cairn of rocks, had been knocked over. For a good few minutes I looked at it laying there on the ground still attached to its post, trying to imagine which way it had been oriented when it was still standing erect. I suppose it had something to do with the mild fatigue from the eight or nine miles I’d already hiked, but I just couldn’t decipher which way to head. So, I drew out my map and my compass, and began to study them both. But alas I am hardly a “natural navigator”, and it is only now after many years of practice that I have become at ease with the craft. In a bit of a haste, I eventually stuffed my compass and my map back into my pocket, adjusted my pack and forged my path straight ahead hoping that it was the Scaur Ridge Trail.

After hiking briskly downhill for about thirty-five or forty minutes, I was joined by a stream to my right. Despite the normal calming properties of running water, I felt a growing and overwhelming suspicion that I wasn’t on the right trail. I stopped and sat beside the babbling watercourse, and the sting of salt and sweat all along my forehead at once penetrated my pores, and ran ever so slightly into my eyes. I squinted and rubbed the sweat out of the creases below my brow with my thumb and my finger. I was starting to get tired, and after a few minutes of studying my map I decided I needed to head back to that extricated sign; I decided I’d almost certainly made a wrong turn onto the Pine Bend Brook Trail.

Having to head back uphill after getting to the “it’s all downhill from here” point can be mentally devastating. I was cursing at myself, disgusted at my mistake while I plodded up the jumbled mess of woods and rocks to get back on course. I came upon a couple of other hikers who seemed friendly enough, and I figured I’d be clever; I asked, “Hey, this is the Pine Bend Brook Trail, right?” They confirmed that it was, adding that it was one of their personal favorites. I carefully concealed my dismay, and I thought simply to myself Goddamn it.

The hike back up to the junction was a solid mile, and when I got there I made sure to take the right turn. A few hours later I was back to the Tripoli Road Trailhead, and on my way home.

After “bagging” the Tripyramids that day, I’d never been back. I also didn’t have a single photograph of the view from the Tris since I didn’t carry my camera in my early hiking days. It wasn’t that I explicitly didn’t want to return (although I did harbor a bit of personal shame at my wrong turn), but I just never had cause to. The Tripyramids are fairly isolated, and they represent a pretty long day’s hike. For years I would occasionally drive past the Pine Bend Brook on the Kanc and I’d think of that day, and of my wrong turn. But in the passage of those years, my affinity for the outdoors evolved dramatically, and eventually I could no longer hold a grudge against myself, or against the Tris and the Pine Bend Brook Trail. I have come to embrace wholly the experience of nature, the tribulations and the triumphs, and the anoetic growth, so to speak ,that comes of purposeful implantation into the woods and upon the mountains. I conceive the wooded and rocky hills as a place that gives way to art, philosophy, science, and a generally “good” way of existence. I believe that through hiking, I have come to deconstruct a broad variety of my own personal boundaries. And, as luck would have it, I recently stumbled upon some cause to return to the Tris.

An old friend who I used to work with contacted me to see if I’d be up for a hike on Monday, and I happened to have the opportunity to work it into my schedule. After tossing around some ideas we decided to look for a trail that neither of us had been to. He’s still working on bagging his four thousand footers, so the Tripyramids came up for discussion; I was stricken with excitement at the chance to return, and I knew just the trail. At last, I’d finally be able to see the entirety of the Pine Bend Brook Trail.

My friend, who also shares the name Matt, brought his dog Buddy, a strikingly handsome husky. With a 9 o’clock start, the air was warming, but still crisp and cool. As we criss-crossed with the brook and began to make a steady uphill push, I told Matt about my only other experience along this trail; I confessed to my wrong turn. I pointed to the spot where I’d stopped to sit with my map and reconnoiter my plan that day. I chuckled audibly while telling him my story, and he chuckled right along; it wasn’t a wrong turn of grave misfortunes, but it felt like big deal at the time. We walked along, chatted, and enjoyed occasional views back to the north that showcased Mount Washington, I thought to myself how unjust it would have been to ever hold anything against this mountain or this trail.

Our journey was planned as a simple back-and-forth to North and Middle Peak, which the only two of the Tris that qualify as four thousand footers. We spent quite a bit of time marveling at the clear views from Middle Peak, with Waterville Valley’s Mount Tecumseh and the Osceolas on one side, and the Chocorua area on the other. I have come to realize that it is always amazing to be on the top of a mountain; but those mountaintops become all the more charming when you have the chance to share them with an old friend.

Matt & Buddy on Middle Peak

Matt & Buddy on Middle Tripyramid

We began our descent after taking in the views for about a half hour. The day was winding down and giving way to that late October light, in which everything seems awash in gold. At the last crossing with the Pine Bend Brook, I stopped and took off my pack. I knelt down in a few inches of water and cupped my hands beneath the water, letting it run past my writs for a moment. I drew my hands upward and pushed the cool water of the brook gently over my face. I cupped hands again and drew more water up, this time pouring it onto my hair, and giving a bit of a scrub. I took a few more cupfuls for my face, and few for my thirsty mouth (I can never seem to resist water fresh from the Whites). Matt also seemed to think that was a good idea, and he followed my lead. I stood up and threw my pack over my shoulders and took to walking along the last few thousand feet of the trail. My still-wet face was cooled by the slight breezes, and as I lifted up my chin and opened up my nostrils, I took in a deep and cleansing breath through a satisfied smile; I felt very much alive, and very happy to be with Matt and the Tris again.

I couldn’t help but think that often times, men look into the still of a pond or a lake and find that they are drawn immediately to decipher the reflection of their own face; for those who are fortunate enough though, a good hike within the woods and among the mountaintops allows for the reflection of the self, as it if conveyed unseen upon the wind.

Thanks for stopping by to partake of my New Hampshire Landscape Photography here at Summitblog; I do hope you take care and as always, I hope to see you again soon.

Aug 24 2011

Evans Notch Possibilities

The abundant and unique natural features found within Evans Notch are part of a somewhat hidden, or a least less-frequented side of New Hampshire. The Notch has a look and feel to it, both from the road and on the trail, which speaks of wild scenery and a rich backcountry. Yet, not all visitors realize that many locations like this were once the battlegrounds for some very shortsighted and massive human disturbances (timbering, namely). While the large-scale devastation has been contained and the land revitalized thanks to the Weeks Act, regular small scale disturbances still exist; and can quickly add up. Places that lie within a short walking distance from the road tend to get the brunt of misuse, which can occur even in places that seem isolated and out of reach, like Evans Notch. An incredible amount of stewardship goes into maintaining the overall beauty and quality of this and other scenic areas. Yet, there is still work to be done; there is a story to tell and imagery to share about hundreds of areas in New Hampshire, and about the possibilities within places like Evans.

Rolling Green Waters at Emerald Pool

Rolling Green Waters at Emerald Pool

New Hampshire’s share of Evans Notch contains miles upon miles of hiking trails, surrounded by lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and several distinctive alpine mountain peaks. Not to mention a spectacular notch-corridor for pleasant and scenic driving. I recently had a day to explore and enjoy the Notch, and I had hopes of experiencing a little bit of everything in terms of the landscape. I plotted a hike along a pleasant loop that would take me to the Emerald Pool, up to Bicknell Ridge for a view of the Baldfaces, and down for a visit to the impressive and graceful Eagle Cascade (a total of roughly five and a half miles).

I began my hike at 8:30 am, which is a bit of a late start in my opinion but the best I could do. Ultimately, I wanted to enjoy the Emerald Pool before the crowds arrived, because at only .7 miles from the road it tends to be a popular swimming spot. And although I got there well ahead of any influx, I could have come away with some significantly better photographs of the pool if I’d only arrived about an hour and a half sooner (there was intense sunlight washing out the right side of the falls’ ledges, so I had to isolate my focus a lot more than what is normal for me and my style of photography). I spent about an hour photographing the intense green of the pool and listening to the rush of the water. I hiked onward as planned and spent another hour or so upon the ledges of Bicknell Ridge photographing the Baldfaces. From there, I walked to Eagle Cascade where I spent more time photographing, and then enjoying a tasty lunch of peanut butter and home-made blueberry-ginger jam on whole grain bread.

South Baldface View

Bicknell Ridge: South Baldface View

On my way back down, I paid a second visit to the Emerald Pool but it was well occupied with boisterously loud visitors so I did not dare try and shoot it a second time. I did unfortunately happen upon some evidence of environmental disturbances such as trash and a couple of ill-placed fire pits alongside the river, complete with melted beer bottles and all.

Unfortunate Usage Near Emerald Pool

Unfortunate Usage Mere Feet from the Emerald Pool

Evans Notch is a place worthy of a visit, and if you make your way here I offer this first bit of advice: Bring a camera. If you want to properly remember a place like Evans Notch and truly appreciate this lesser known side of New Hampshire, you need to capture it. While photographs are a great tool for aiding your own memories and storytelling, photos can also serve in the passionate individual promotion of conservation and stewardship. It is through our senses that we connect with the nature of a place, and it is my firm belief that photos, as both art and records, can truly galvanize that connection. It does no good to promote places like the Emerald Pool as “a great place to camp out and jump naked into a swimming hole”; this kind of description fails to convey any appreciation for the beautifully wild and diverse biome, and instead invites visitors to throw their cares aside and desecrate the area a little bit at a time. The damage caused by trash, riverside campfire rings, and parasitic hikers is no small deal if these types of locations are to ever be kept beautiful. Besides not trashing them in the first place, representing the Emerald Pool and other places properly and lovingly can go a long way.

If you’re serious about your photography like I am, be sure to bring a tripod and a polarizer. You may also consider bringing a range of lenses, as the variation in the size and shape of the subject matter in Evans Notch provides photographic opportunities and challenges alike. Take the water features for instance; some falls are tall and long, others are short and wide. In addition, this year’s rainfall patterns have been sparser than years past, which means that the waterfall landscape has a slightly different look. Some folks may have presumed an early end to “waterfall season” as a result, but not to me. I happen to like the change in volumes and flow, and I enjoy seeing New Hampshire just a bit differently this year over last.

Eagle Cascade

Eagle Cascade

Eagle Cascade

Eagle Cascade: A Classic View

Indeed, the summer is winding down, and some of us have thought of how to have that last hurrah for the season. Some local photographers may have begun shelving their camera gear for a few weeks while they wait it out for fall foliage to arrive. But trust me; there are still things to do, places to shoot, and all kinds of natural areas to discover and appreciate. Don’t be afraid to pay Evans Notch a visit…you might just fall in love with it the way I have.

Still Green

Still Green

Thank you for stopping by and spending some time with me. We’ll see you again real soon!