Author Archives: kevinhartphoto

2016 Vermont Waterfalls Calendars Available

Hello all,

My 2016 calendars of Vermont Waterfalls are now available!

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Each month features an image of mine from a brook in Vermont, ranging from Killington to the Northeast Kingdom:

Cover: A close-up shot of a waterfall on Sucker Brook below the Falls of Lana in Salisbury, VT (just south of Middlebury).
January: Moss Glen Falls in Stowe as it looks during the winter.
February: Hell Brook in Stowe.
March: Chamberlin Mills Bridge Falls in Lyndon, VT.
April: Coldwater Brook in Groton State Forest.
May: Woodbury Falls (a few miles south of Hardwick).
June: Moss Glen Falls (Stowe) from this summer, after the winter pulled down a bunch of trees on the surrounding cliffs.
July: Sucker Brook, this time above the Falls of Lana in the Green Mountain National Forest in Salisbury, VT.
August: Topmost segment of the Falls of Lana.
September: Kent Brook in Gifford Woods State Park near Killington.
October: Hell Brook, Stowe.
November: An intermittent waterfall in Little River State Park that feeds Stevenson Brook in times of high water (Waterbury).
December: Stowe’s Hell Brook in an early-winter snowstorm.

My calendars are available for purchase by clicking on the link below:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=4VK6AB5U2PL38

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Introduction to Backcountry Ski Photography, Spring 2015

As anyone can well imagine, fulfilling a dream of becoming an adventure photographer is a road full of obstacles. In my case, the need for willing and able adventure buddies (read: subjects), the prohibitive cost of the necessary gear, and the limited extent of my outdoor adventure skills almost clouded my vision of that goal. Winter, in particular, scared me. You know, winter, the season most revered by extreme mountain enthusiasts.

This past spring, though, many of those clouds lifted and I caught a clear vision of my dream starting to take form. Thanks to the friends I made as a seasonal employee at Stowe Mountain Resort, I was offered chances to shoot backcountry skiers in incredible locations. In essence, I was being offered the chance to gain experience that I was unsure would ever come my way.

I participated in three backcountry shoots between March and May (Bruce Trail, King Ravine, and Mt. Jefferson), and all three resulted in those rare photographic gems I like to call “keepers.” Please read on for stories and photos from each event:

3/23 – Bruce Trail, Stowe, VT
I started modestly, riding a lift to the top of Stowe with a group of friends and taking a backcountry, but forgiving, route down to the XC center. The Bruce Trail — the first, but now abandoned, trail cut on the mountain — was the perfect candidate: narrow, fast, and filled with moguls and little jumps. I skied ahead of the pack, stopping and waiting at pitches that I felt would make for the most epic photos. We managed to squeeze in two runs before the lifts shut down, and I completely enjoyed the challenge of setting up on skis.

Taking flight on the Bruce Trail.

My favorite capture from the Bruce Trail shoot. It was a sunny day and contrast was very high, but I found I was able to save this shot by reducing contrast in the forest.

4/15 – King Ravine, Mt. Adams, NH
My next trip was a significant and awesome step up from lift-serviced backcountry terrain. This would be the trip that would test my endurance, tolerance for extreme terrain, and adeptness for catching photos at the perfect time. In one of my greatest triumphs to date, I began talking to our mountain dispatcher, a simply indefatigable adventurer named Aaron who has an insatiable appetite true backcountry skiing. Last year, he had skied King Ravine (whose headwall is imposing and nerve-rattling in the summer, mind you) for the first time and wanted to hit it again. He invited me along, claiming it would be a great start for my quests in adventure photography. He is not a liar.

We started this trip out on the evening on the 14th, tent camping near the base of the trail so that we could use the whole day for hiking into the ravine and skiing. We woke before sunrise on the 15th and headed back to the car to organize our gear for the day. We headed out about an hour after sunrise, Aaron gliding effortlessly up the grade on skis with skins, and me trudging up behind him on snowshoes. I chose not to bring skis on this trip due to gear restrictions, but I had Aaron’s patience so I was all set.

The morning commute.

The morning commute.

Aaron nears the headwall. The Great Gully is the middle-most trail, to the right of the claw-shaped scar.

Aaron nears the headwall. The Great Gully is the middle-most trail, to the right of the claw-shaped scar.

Once we arrived at the headwall, we stashed our unnecessary gear — Aaron’s skins, my snowshoes, etc — behind some brush that would protect it from a possible avalanche and secured our crampons on our boots. This is where the fun began.

From what I have read, King Ravine (whose slope reaches roughly 50 degrees near the top) is about as steep as any winter mountaineer would want to attempt without ropes. With that in our minds, crampons on our boots, and a mountaineering axes in our hands, we headed up the Great Gully. Unshaded from the sun, the climb was hot, slow, and tiring. The slope, probably about 20 degrees in the beginning, was steep enough to make normal hiking rather impossible. Instead, I had assumed a stab kick kick, stab kick kick pattern, placing just about all of my body’s pressure on the two front spikes of the crampons.

Heading up the lower section of the Great Gully.

Heading up the lower section of the Great Gully.

Pausing for a breath on the upper section of the Great Gully.

Pausing for a breath on the upper section of the Great Gully.

Nearing the lip of the headwall, on a roughly 50-degree slope.

Nearing the lip of the headwall, on a roughly 50-degree slope.

Halfway up, we stopped at the cliff dividing the Great Gully Trail from a gully containing a notorious ice bulge, and Aaron warned me to avoid that during my down climb. We also made plans for Aaron’s second run — he would climb into the Seven after his run, and if I made it down to this spot quickly enough I could shoot him skiing down from this spot. Wishful thinking, as it turned out.

Continuing up, we hit the steeper slope but stopped for shade only once. Eventually, we hit Thunderstorm Junction, marking the end of the headwall. The summit of Mt. Adams stood less than a mile in front of us, and Aaron made the impulsive decision to ski down from the very top, despite the spotty nature of the snowpack. I hiked up with him, scouting wind lips and good vistas on the way up, and then hiked down before him, waiting at a predetermined spot. I botched the shot of him leaping over the wind lip, but shook it off and met back up with him above the headwall. We put our packs back on and once again I headed down first to wait at a steep spot with a great view.

Skiing off the top of Mt. Adams.

Skiing off the top of Mt. Adams.

The moment after Aaron landed the jump over the wind lip. Mt. Madison rises in the distance.

The moment after Aaron landed the jump over the wind lip. Mt. Madison rises in the distance.

Carving the top of the Great Gully.

Carving the top of the Great Gully.

In the Great Gully.

In the Great Gully.

This doesn’t need to be stated, but down climbing is not as fun as skiing when it comes to descending a mountain. I was facing uphill and picking my way down with a kick kick stab pattern. Flying down a mountain on a pair of skis may seem terrifying to the uninitiated, but it has nothing on the slow, burning, essentially-blind descent I was experiencing, all the while entrusting my life to a pair of metal teeth. I found a good spot, dug in, and waited maybe a minute for Aaron to come flying by. I caught the moment, took some extra shots to patch together into a panorama, and then packed the camera away and concentrated on the down climb. My heart was pounding — I knew that if I missed the trail to the right, or worse, slipped, I would find myself trapped on an ice bulge (or injured below it). I didn’t really want to find out just how trapped (or injured), so I descended slowly, kicking, stabbing, and kicking some more, and eventually found my path to the right. I noticed Aaron returning from his second run down below and knew that I had taken too long to get back to this spot.

Now on a friendlier slope and with the danger of the ice bulge gone, I relaxed and sped up my descent, even putting into practice the butt glissading that I had perfected during my time as a snowmaker. Back at our gear, Aaron and I agreed to rendezvous at the end of the ice caves, but after putting on the snowshoes and making my way down to the junction, Aaron wasn’t there. My first thought was that he went ahead without me, but that wasn’t his style so I scanned the area. I found him awkwardly balanced between boulders in the ice caves, holding skis and poles in one hand and trying to prevent himself from falling into the deep crevices with his other. Eventually back to safety, he explained that he missed the turn for the trail when skiing down from the gear stash, and had found himself at the top of the ice caves in snow that was too deep and too soft to climb out of. He had no option but to continue through the boulders, and admitted this was the most frightening aspect of the trip for him — the snow lying between the boulders obscured the caves’ true depths, and would not have supported him if he slipped off the rocks.

Aaron skied down the approach trail and arrived at the car within minutes, I’m sure, while I trailed hours behind him, fighting the sun-softened snow and “postholing” on just about every step of the way down, even in snowshoes.

A quasi-panorama I made from the upper half of the Great Gully.

A quasi-panorama I made from the upper half of the Great Gully.

5/1 – 5/3 – Cog Railway, Mt. Clay, Mt. Jefferson, and Jefferson Ravine, NH
While standing atop the summit of Mt. Adams two weeks prior to this trip, we were treated to an outstanding view of Jefferson Ravine and the significant snow fields therein, persisting into the spring. This, understandably, made Aaron restless, so here we were again, poised for another excursion into the White Mountains with skis on Aaron’s feet and snowshoes on mine. Now, however, we were parked on the opposite side of the of the Presidential Range, in the parking lot for the Cog Railway that leads to the top of Mt. Washington. Our plan for the three days in front of us consisted of hiking out to the Perch (an RMC-maintained lean-to) by way of the railway cut, Mt. Clay, and Mt. Jefferson, photographing Aaron skiing in the ravines for the following two days, and making it home healthy, happy, and in good form. Easy. Straight-forward. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

Roughly ten hours later, I stumbled into the opening for the Perch, lightheaded, slightly delusional, and with shoulders, neck, back, and legs all screaming in pain. I asked Aaron how far we had traveled that day, and he warned me that I wouldn’t want to know. He added up the mileage anyway, and shattered any sense of accomplishment that I had felt from arriving at our destination.

Our hike started out on the Cog Railway cut. Although it was the first day of May, snow still coated the ground down at the base of the mountain, so we put on our snowshoes or skis right from the start. We hiked up next to railway, whose every tenth crossbeam was numbered. This offered an odd distinction from all my other hikes — for better or for worse, our progress was easily measurable and often hard to ignore.

We worked our way uphill, the grade falling roughly in the middle of what I’ve encountered over my years of hiking. I fell behind Aaron, but not drastically so, as I felt my lack of sleep from the night before start to catch up to me. It wasn’t too long before we arrived at Jacob’s Ladder and a great view of Mt. Monroe. It was now that I realized conditions would be simply stunning for black and white photography — a fairly low cloud ceiling scraped the tops of the mountains while little spots of sun broke through, illuminating the mountaintops. I shot some photos and then decided I would be both safer and more efficient if I finished out the climb on the tracks themselves.

The view of Mt. Monroe from Jacob's Ladder.

The view of Mt. Monroe from Jacob’s Ladder.

The Cog Railway from Jacob's Ladder.

The Cog Railway from Jacob’s Ladder.

Another view from Jacob's Ladder.

Another view from Jacob’s Ladder.

Aaron waits where we split off from the Cog to head to Mt. Clay.

Aaron waits where we split off from the Cog to head to Mt. Clay.

The trek to Mt. Clay turned out to be the easiest walking of the day — we left the tracks as they veered towards the summit of Washington and walked a wide, gradually ascending plain towards our first summit of the day, standing only a few hundred feet above the col. Aaron started to peel further ahead of me as I approached this summit, due in part to our differences in gear (and level of fitness) but also to the call of my camera. Not only was I intrigued by the fantastic weather conditions against the dramatic scenery, I also wanted some space between my camera and my hiking partner to give the landscape some perspective.

Aaron heads towards Mt. Clay.

Aaron heads towards Mt. Clay.

A panorama looking towards Mt. Jefferson.

A panorama looking towards Mt. Jefferson.

Aaron's tracks leading me over Mt. Clay.

Aaron’s tracks leading me over Mt. Clay.

Clay 5

I left the summit of Clay and plodded along in Aaron’s tracks, getting tired and hungry but promising myself that I would be on top of Jefferson soon and that I could break then. I had to keep moving — I was catching only glimpses of Aaron high on the mountainside above me.

This ascent up Mt. Jefferson turned out to be far demanding than I anticipated. Exhaustion was setting in as I coaxed myself up the peak, and I felt my upper back, shoulders, and neck begin to give way to very sharp pain. (My neck muscles, especially, have a history of sensitivity to backpacking.) Even my legs were starting to feel the pressure of the difficult ascent, fighting the steepness of the peak, the increasing deepness of the snow, and the tiredness from the long ascent up the Cog line. It felt like hours before I arrived at the spot where I had last seen Aaron, and I became aware that I was only halfway up the peak or less.

Eventually, after possibly the most taxing 700+ vertical feet I’ve ever climbed, I reached the summit of Mt. Jefferson in failing light. Aaron was nowhere to be found and he hadn’t left me with explicit directions to the Perch, so I looked around quickly (“this seems like a nice summit”), identified what had to be his tracks (turns out this was his intention — he went ahead with the specific purpose of leaving tracks to the Perch while there was still light), and headed down immediately (“screw eating, it’s late”). Aaron appeared to have some fun on his descent, but, choosing to prioritize not getting lost, I stuck to his tracks. On one particularly steep snowfield, during the last of the descent into Edmands Col, I lost my balance, fell over, and felt the weight of my pack drag me down the slope. I was able to self-arrest with a pole, and made it into the Col with everything but the pole in tact, and found a message in the snow reading “KEVIN, THIS WAY TO THE PERCH ——->”.

I ate a quick snack in the Col and continued on with the last of my hike. About a third of the way across the lip of Castle Ravine, I found Aaron, skinning his way back up from the Perch to check on my progress and well-being (he had turned around as soon as he had arrived at the Perch and was very relieved to find me past Jefferson). We had a view of the sunset as we trekked across the top of the ravine, and then hiked halfway down Israel Ridge by headlamp. Eventually, I stumbled into the Perch.

I had walked only five and a half miles.

The setting sun illuminates Castle Ridge as I made my way across Castle Ravine.

The setting sun illuminates Castle Ridge as I made my way across Castle Ravine.

Now, of course, it was time to reflect on why, exactly, it had taken me over 10 hours to walk 5.5 miles. In the summer, a 5.5 mile loop up a mountain and back would take me no longer than 3 hours, unless I was waiting for light conditions to change. I was moving at less than a third my average pace. The following is a list of possible explanations for my snail’s pace, and inherent lessons for future winter travel:

  1. Travel on snow is always slower, and walking on snowshoes is naturally more awkward. The most efficient form of winter travel is skinning on skis (though I haven’t yet tested that theory).
  2. I was low on sleep — early and proper preparation is key for any outdoor adventure.
  3. I had an overnight pack on, which slows my pace even in summer. Consistent training is necessary to condition my body to heavy loads.
  4. Due to the added difficulty of moving on snow and the body’s need to produce more heat, higher caloric intake is necessary during the winter. I was holding off on snack breaks to compensate for my slower pace, resulting in undernourishment.

The following morning, sensitive to my body’s reaction to the previous day’s activities, Aaron suggested that we keep today’s activities a little more low-key than we originally planned. We got a slow start to the morning, a bummer to my photographic sensibilities but a huge relief to my aching but functioning body. Some rest, food, and Ibuprofen tablets later, I was ready for the (unexpectedly easy) trek back up to the ridge.

We scouted out an acceptable vantage point of Jefferson Ravine, a rocky outcropping with a pretty fantastic view of the Presidential Range stretching from Washington to Madison. The entirety of Jefferson Ravine lay in plain view below me. Aaron left me here and skinned to the top of Jefferson’s summit, providing me with a view of his runs both down the snowfields of the peak and the steep, narrow chutes of the ravine.

Thankfully, I did not miss the runs, but was disappointed and somewhat surprised by the limits of my 270mm zoom lens. Although an expensive purchase and a heavy, cumbersome item, I am now considering upgrading to a 400mm lens for projects such as these.

Waiting for the skier on a beautiful day.

Waiting for the skier on a beautiful day.

Jefferson Ravine 2

Aaron skis down from the top of Mt. Jefferson.

Aaron skis down from the top of Mt. Jefferson.

Aaron in the Ravine.

Aaron in the Ravine.

Carving Jefferson Ravine.

Carving Jefferson Ravine.

Jefferson Ravine 6

The remainder of our adventure concluded as any should: we got an early start on Sunday, saw the early sunlight illuminate Castle Ridge, had a much easier time ascending Jefferson and Clay than I was anticipating, missed shooting Aaron skiing down Monroe Brook from Jacob’s Ladder (because I embody Murphy’s Law), and met up in good health at our car.

I plan to return to the Whites next winter.

Aaron ascends Mt. Clay on the hike out, with the Cog Railway appearing in the background.

Aaron ascends Mt. Clay on the hike out, with the Cog Railway appearing in the background.

Hiking over Mt. Clay on the way out on Sunday. The snow was much softer after this relatively warm May weekend.

Hiking over Mt. Clay on the way out on Sunday. The snow was much softer after this relatively warm May weekend.

June 14, 2014 – Hike to the top of Mt. Washington via Huntington Ravine

Having ignited the “gotta catch ‘em all” fire in my ex-neighbor Tim in 2012 (but only in regards to the White Mountains of NH), our sights were set on Mt. Washington for the spring season of 2014. Our journey started at daybreak on this June morning at Pinkham Notch with nonspecific, rather hazy plans of ascending Washington in the greater Tuckerman Ravine/Lion Head area. (The importance of proper preparation, with up-to-date information, cannot be understated, folks. But that’s neither here nor there.) Tim’s old, out-of-date information warned him that the Lion Head Trail may be closed for erosion, so we headed inside the visitor’s center for information regarding the trails before heading out. There, we learned several little tidbits that some would argue were important:

  1. The trail we wanted to hike down, through Tuckerman Ravine, was closed due to the waterfalls. The snow depths that had formed within the ravine were still melting out (halfway through June, because, well, because Mt. Washington is Mt. Washington) and were not stable enough for travel.
  2. Lion Head Trail is open and fine.
  3. Huntington Ravine Trail is open, but is “technical. You don’t need ropes, but people will use them. It may be a little wet.”
Crystal Cascade. Note how the even light encourages the natural highlights of the flowing water to shine.

Crystal Cascade. Note how the even light encourages the natural highlights of the flowing water to shine.

Excited as always by the promise of a challenge, I was immediately attracted to the idea of hiking on the Huntington Ravine Trail. I asked Tim if he wanted to hike Lion Head up and Huntington down, and halfway through his first of several “I’m up for anything” shrugs, the lady behind the desk informed us that “we don’t recommend anybody going down Huntington Ravine because it’s too steep. You should do that route only going up.” “Huntington up and Lion down! Sound good, Tim?” “Sure, whatever.” And so it would be.

Our hike started out on the Tuckerman Ravine trail under overcast skies. We were following the Cutler River for about half a mile so the clouds delighted me. (Waterfall photography, or really any photos of flowing water, do not work so well on sunny days due to the high contrast of light filtering through the trees, as this tends to eliminate the natural highlights caused by the movement of the water.) We slowly hiked our way up to Crystal Cascade, where I met a tripod-free photographer impressed by my level of preparation (because only the most prepared adventurers plan to hike an unstable trail) and inquired about our route. I informed him of our intention to hike up Huntington Ravine to the Alpine Garden, and his reply? “Ah, I’ve done that once. Never again! It’s scary stuff — hope I see you up top! You have a macro lens for the Alpine Garden Trail?” (I did.)

Completely unfazed, we continued upwards, eventually branching off onto the Huntington Ravine Trail and crossing over several roaring but scenic creeks. The sun was out by this point so any good [flowing water] photography was out of the question, but I marked the lower Huntington Ravine Trail in spring as a great spot to add to my overcast day checklist. As we approached the headwall, we joined up with a father/son climbing team also headed into the ravine. At the base of the headwall, the climbers pointed out where the trail would take us: “You’ll follow the boulder field right up to that patch of snow — see where that person with the red backpack is? From there the trail gets… fun! Don’t follow us onto the talus slopes.” Resting for only a minute or so, we launched ourselves up the boulder field and quickly began reflecting on the fact that the King Ravine Trail up the headwall of Mt. Adams was steeper.

A springtime stream flowing alongside the Huntington Ravine Trail in the mountain's shadow. 0.8 seconds at f/11.

A springtime stream flowing alongside the Huntington Ravine Trail in the mountain’s shadow. 0.8 seconds at f/11.

Tim crosses a "roaring but scenic" creek along the Huntington Ravine Trail in harsh sunlight. The contrast was waaaaayyyyyyy too high in the original photograph, so I applied some mild tonemapping to even out the light and bring some life back to the colors.

Tim crosses a “roaring but scenic” creek along the Huntington Ravine Trail in harsh sunlight. The contrast was waaaaayyyyyyy too high in the original photograph, so I applied some mild tonemapping to even out the light and bring some life back to the colors.

The Pinnacle and start of the "fun" trail as framed by a yellow birch at the base of the boulder field.

The Pinnacle and start of the “fun” trail as framed by a yellow birch at the base of the boulder field. Shot at 11mm (ultra-wide). The boulder field ends at the patch of snow closest to the center of the photo. To the right is a zoomed-in view.

A bit of perspective: A man with a red backpack sits at the top of the boulder field. To his right, the trail "gets fun" as it heads straight up the headwall of Huntington Ravine. Taken from the base of the boulder field at 110 mm.

A bit of perspective: A man with a red backpack sits at the top of the boulder field. To his right, the trail “gets fun” as it heads straight up the headwall of Huntington Ravine. Taken from the base of the boulder field at 110 mm.

"Dude, this is NOTHIN' compared to King Ravine!" we said.

“Dude, this is NOTHIN’ compared to King Ravine!” we said.

Scramblin' for the top of Huntington Ravine.

Scramblin’ for the top of Huntington Ravine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tim! I HAVE to get below that!!” The spring runoff waterfall gushes below the Pinnacle as seen from the boulder field.

Up towards the top of the boulder field, and much to my surprise, we encountered two rather strongly flowing streams — seasonal paths for the spring runoff. I paused for a second to really reflect on the depth of the snow that must have been sitting on top of Washington this past winter. For these waterfalls to be flowing as consistently as they were, this high up on the mountain, this late into spring… It was beyond what my imagination could grasp. The first one that we noticed was flowing down next to The Pinnacle, a large rock formation upon which we saw a group of climbers. As I spotted the flow, I turned to Tim and shouted excitedly “TIM! I HAVE to get below that!!” But it wasn’t possible at that spot, so we hiked on up and came to the second stream. As we crossed it, I pulled out my tripod and the super-wide lens and took some pictures of a mini cascade flowing down from the peaks above. I was very limited in the amount of perspectives I could capture (repositioning myself too many times may have resulted in my tumbling down a boulder field), but using a super-wide lens allowed me more options than I would have had otherwise. As a tradeoff, it also meant I had to crouch within the spray of the water. If you ever plan to do this, take a lens cloth with you — you’ll be using it after every shot. I slacked on this necessary step a couple of times (when bracketing exposures, I tend to click them out one after another without pausing), and as result I had to crop a water splotch out of my best result. The lesson here? When standing in the spray of a waterfall to get a super-wide perspective, cover your camera with a rain cover, keep the lens cap on between shots, and wipe down the front of the filter with a lens cloth the moment before you click the shutter each and every time.

Huntington Ravine in June, Mt. Washington

Spring runoff near the top of the boulder field. My best result from the process described above.

Tim was waiting for me at the patch of snow where the boulder field ended. Mr. Red Backpack and his partner had actually turned around here, and now we could see why. The boulder field had led us up to a sheer cliff, and as a surprise only to fools, we saw blazes leading right up it. The Pinnacle towered over us to the left, opposite where the trail went, and while Tim pondered on whether he was up for the challenge, I told him I was going down to the bottom of the first waterfall. He told me to be careful, and with only slightly shaky knees I meticulously stepped down a dangerously unsettled talus slope.

For those unfamiliar with mountainsides, allow me to explain something about talus: it’s loose. It is a slope (in this case, a steep one) covered in tiny rocks that are always moving below your feet and feel ready to tumble down in an avalanche of rocks, ice, and body parts at any given moment. I made my way down being especially careful to nudge as few rocks as possible, switchbacking when the terrain allowed and finding all the large, stationary rocks that I could. Fortunately, the trek to the bottom of the waterfall wasn’t very long, so I stepped onto the equally unsettled material at the base of the flowing water, set up my tripod as motionlessly as I ever had (great training for wildlife photography, perhaps?), and started clicking away. After I caught all the wide exposures that I wanted to, I changed lenses to capture only the top portion. This whole time, I should note, I was terrified that all the recently-deposited material would wash down the ravine, taking me with it. It didn’t, but my fear (and severe lack of options) prevented me from seeking out additional perspectives. Before heading back up to Tim, I picked up an old, broken ice axe some winter adventurer had dropped from The Pinnacle’s sheer cliff walls.

Spring runoff below the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine, wide.

Spring runoff below the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine, wide.

Spring runoff below the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine, zoom.

Spring runoff below the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine, zoom.

I returned to Tim my legs shaking from fighting the talus and my mind shaking from the whole experience to find him chatting with a dude who had hiked Huntington Ravine some fifteen times before. Listening to him speak of the climb ahead in a casual sort of way and then watching him effortlessly glide up the wall gave both Tim and me the confidence we needed to keep going up. He was out of sight within minutes, and as I watched him maneuver the headwall I turned to Tim and said “Oh, we’ll be fine. We just go that way, then that way, and then step over that wet slab like he did, and then we’ll be golden.” Even standing directly in front of our path, it was easy to underestimate the length and difficulty of what lay ahead.

It only took about the first five steps or so before I began to understand that maybe, just maybe, I had finally tried to tackle something that was over my head. Perhaps it was my shaken mental state from the waterfall chase, but I was struggling to conquer just the first pitch. My camera bag, full of an SLR and three lenses, was hanging across my body, swinging freely. At times it felt like it would knock me off balance, sometimes it obscured my view of potential handholds or footholds, and other times it simply prevented me from pulling my body close enough to the rock. I was also wearing shoes whose soles had long been worn out. As Tim waited for me on the first landing, I frantically worked my way up the cliff, convinced that my shoes would slip out from under me while I searched for handholds that weren’t there. (The wet spot I had noticed from below, I should note, was not an easy step like a fifteen-time veteran would lead one to believe.) I have no photos of this spot, but plan to change that for next time by packing away my extra lenses into my pack before this ascent, securing my camera (with the most diverse lens I have attached to it — the 18 – 300mm) to my waist where it can’t shift, and using footwear I have confidence in (climbing shoes may be the best bet for this section).

Tim ascends the headwall, Huntington Ravine.

Tim ascends the headwall.

My normally stable mountainside mindset was in shambles on this headwall, and it was Tim who took over the leadership role and voice of confidence for the first half of the climb. As I was struggling to pull myself to the second landing, I noticed two girls down at the snowpack studying the headwall like we had been doing several minutes before. They seemed to be under the belief that hiking over the snow would provide a better route up the cliff than our route — the blazed route — would, and I began to panic for them. Tim wisely instructed me to keep my focus forward, invaluable advice for such terrain. He firmly reprimanded me further up the headwall as well, when I looked behind me while pulling myself up a boulder to see someone’s pack lying in the ravine below. “Do you think someone fell down there?!” “FORWARD!” This man did not take long to develop a strong mountain instinct. Eventually, I did regain my confidence and snapped some photos of Tim scaling the wall after the most gut-wrenching stuff had passed.

Tim ascends the headwall, Huntington Ravine.

This technical hiking lasted considerably longer than either of us expected — at least half a mile — but we both made it up to the Alpine Garden Trail unscathed, where we were immediately blasted by incredible wind gusts. This flat trail followed the rim of the ravine, and the only challenging aspect of it was walking forward without getting blown over. The noontime light was flattening the landscape around us and the alpine flowers, I learned later, were blooming a week earlier but were bare as we walked by. With my camera packed away for this trail, we breezed through that mile and soon enough found ourselves only .9 miles and 1,000 feet away from the summit. We were above Tuckerman Ravine as we started heading back upwards, and soon found ourselves engulfed in the clouds trapped by the terrain.

After seeing the obviously relieved photographer from Crystal Cascade (“SO happy to see you guys!”), several exhaustion breaks, and the completion of the most difficult staircase we’ve ever climbed (along the obligatory growling at the kids running up the steps after emerging from their parents’ cars), we found ourselves on the completely socked-in summit, blasted by cold, wind, and clouds. As we got in line for our summit photo, we were joined by the girls we had seen below us at the start of the headwall. Once we all realized that we recognized each other and why, we exchanged congratulations and powerful high fives that made me wish I had remembered to pack gloves. Then into the cafeteria we went to escape the winter conditions, grab food, and wait a little while to see if the clear sky everywhere else would eventually catch up to the infamous summit of Mt. Washington — home of the “world’s worst weather” while sitting 6,288 feet above sea level.

Finally on top and braced against the winter-like conditions.

Finally on top and braced against the winter-like conditions.

Inside unfolded a scene that belonged nowhere near a mountaintop, complete with a post office, fully working bathrooms, a cafeteria full of delights such as pizza and coffee, and a plethora of sightseer hopefuls that had not hiked to the summit. This bustling building also contained a plaque that came almost with a shock: a list of everyone who had died on the mountain. Two of the most recent items on that list, one in March of 2013 and one in November of the same year, took place in Huntington Ravine. The first was a solo ice climber who fell in an avalanche while climbing in the Pinnacle Gully, and the second was a hiker who had ventured off trail to “get closer to a waterfall.” I walked away from that list relatively convinced that I had picked up a dead man’s ice axe and that I should have died doing what I did.

I suppose the lesson here is that it’s important to consider the costs and benefits of your actions. In the world of photography, you have to take risks. Interest in photography has exploded in the age of smartphones, and for those of us who take it seriously, unique perspectives and a willingness to leave our comfort zones is essential to stand out. However, there’s nothing wrong with a quick little cost/benefit analysis before diving into the deep. Know your limits, and understand how your unique perspective tests them. No image is worth your life. I’ll let you guys be the final judge here, but if you ask me, the low angle of the runoff cascade is not any better than the image of the Pinnacle taken from the safety of the boulder field. Poor cost/benefit analysis, but an experience I do not regret.

DISCLAIMER: Trekking off-trail is dangerous, particularly in bad weather, and can result in injury or death when hiking above tree line. Know your limits and do not attempt to surpass them, even for unique photo opportunities. Also remember that Alpine vegetation is fragile. Stay on trail (or tread carefully if off-trail) to minimize environmental impacts.

Back to the summit. Although photos taken in fog have the potential to be extremely compelling, and I am personally interested in capturing such conditions, I was feeling uninspired up on the summit. To begin, there were too many buildings around, and the fog was really too thick for any interesting “vanishing point” perspectives (such as repeated rock cairns). There wasn’t much in the way of vegetation growing among the rocks, and the clouds weren’t parting to offer even glimpses of the surrounding land or swirling clouds. (My trek up Mt. Katahdin the previous September was far more rewarding, thanks to the diversity of sky conditions.)

Clouds swirl above Tuckerman Ravine, taken during the hike down on the Lion Head Trail.

Clouds swirl above Tuckerman Ravine, taken during the hike down on the Lion Head Trail.

We waited about an hour for the view to clear and then headed down the Lion Head Trail to emerge from the cloud right above Tuckerman Ravine. We made it off the mountain without incident, and as we drove past the north side of the mountain on the way home, we noticed that the clouds had finally cleared from the summit. No doubt, this would thrill the swarm of sightseers trekking to the summit via car and train.

Greetings from Kevin Hart (the photographer from Vermont)!

Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by to check out my new blog! This is just an introductory post so I’m keepin’ it short (and real).

Here, I hope to chronicle for all of you my various camera-accompanied adventures, where I’ll share my hard-learned lessons, some photo advice, and the (entertaining/hair-raising/enlightening) stories behind my photos!

That’s it for now! If you’d like to be kept updated with my posts please “Like” this post, subscribe to my blog, or subscribe to my Facebook page “Kevin Hart Photography”.

Talk to you all soon!

Kevin