Cold sunrise & hot fat: Pictures from a Sunday morning

I have not spent too much time yet with my new camera. It's winter, the days are short and dark, sometimes I bring it to work, but nothing much seems to come of this.

With this in mind, today I resolved to get up with the sunrise and head out to the reservoir to try and capture the first light hitting the east side of Ricker Mountain and the bowl-shaped drainage that flows into the lake. It was quite cold (almost zero f) and as taking photos involves a lot of standing around, various extremeties were freezing, and I quickly learned how to operate the camera while wearing thick gloves. I don't think these are the greatest images, and the scene is not as dramatic as sunrise on Poon Hill, and I am still learning the ins and outs of the camera. Also the photos were taken with the relatively inexpensive kit lens that came with camera, because it is the widest-angle lens I have (something like the Sigma 10 - 20 mm zoom would be interesting, but the price is pretty fearsome).

First image, 6:52 am: I woke up very early and then managed to get to Waterbury Center reservoir access late for the 6:39 sunrise, I had to jog through the cold to get to a vantage point.

About fifteen minutes later (7:07 am to be exact), sunlight is starting to fill the valley. Ricker Basin is a prominent theme in this blog (moose, deer, coyotes, the changing climate, getting lost, getting found, etc.) it's all on this patch of land.

Looking back at my (unused) tripod and a thermos of coffee that promptly froze shut in the cold. I've carried this thermos bottle with me on many winter activities and this is the first time this has happened.

A little later, in Waterbury Center as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill opens at 8 am sharp, even on Sundays. Thanks to Jamie for letting me slip behind the counter to grab a few quick shots of the doughnut making machine. Over the years I have ingested my share of cider doughnuts deep fried in this device, thankfully usually coming or going from some sort of outdoor activity (variations on hiking, biking, skiing) in the Stowe area.

Breakfast, after the thermos thawed out: Hot doughnuts and lukewarm coffee.

And a last image from after I got home (and warm), life au naturel: if you have an itch, scratch. There are probably hundreds of images of this squirrel on my hard drive.


Shadows creeping on a hazy night (Lunar eclipse)

I'll try again in 2010: Last night I put on several layers of clothes (I'm kind of lazy, lots gear from the previous weekend is still lying around, not put away), grabbed a couple of cameras, and headed out to the field behind my condo to try and capture some images of the lunar eclipse. Unfortunately the sky conditions were less than ideal, partly cloudy, and with a layer of hazy, filmy cloud. The image is a pretty true representation of what I was seeing with my eyes. Given that it seemed to be getting more cloudy as time went by and it was quite cold I didn't stay out too long.


Woodward Mtn. ski trail, 2/17/2008

I post this plot here because there isn't much information online about the Woodward Mountain backcountry ski trail -- I looked, and, for the most part, did not find.

Trip report: Sunday I was on skis bright and early and was traversing the face of the dam on my backcountry touring gear. The normal way to do the entire Woodard Mountain trail is to spot a car at the reservoir and then drive to Bolton Valley and take a lift to the the top of Ricker Mountain. Being alone, and not much into lift-serviced skiing anyway, I decided to make it a very long out and back ski from my car.

From 9 until 11 I climbed steadily on my skis on logging roads and up a snowmobile trail. I was relying on waypoints that I had pre-loaded into my GPS the night before to navigate, and I am also pretty familiar with this area so I had some confidence that getting hopelessly lost would not be a problem.

Right at 11 am, and not without some degree of trepidation, I left the well marked VAST trail and headed off into the trail-less woods. No one knew exactly where I was and I wasn't carrying a cell phone. I thought I was reasonably well prepared and equipped for what I was doing and also I was not going to take any unnecessary risks: Still equipment failure (ie, a broken ski or binding) could have meant flailing around for hours in waist-deep snow, and an immobilizing injury could prove fatal in the remote and mostly untraveled winter woods: This area is remote, unpatrolled, and not many people go there.

Still, the snow was wonderful to ski on: Fresh, deep yet dense, so sinking in was not an issue, and it was initially very quiet and serene as edged my way up the Woodward ridgeline through pretty open hardwood forest. I had no exact idea where the ski trail was on the mountain but I figured that it must be near the top of the ridgeline and that if I cut across it I would eventually find it. I eventually found a saddle between two high points on the ridge; and right as I crested to the top, there was the trail, skied on and marked with blue blazes.

I skied up the trail for about another kilometer but it was gaining elevation rapidly and I wasn't making fast progress as I became hungry and more fatigued. At 2:30 pm I decided that I had had enough, took the skins of my skis, mounted my cable bindings, and started the long descent back to the reservoir. The trip back was mostly uneventful -- though I'm glad there is no video of this, my form is lacking, and very graceless.

Eventually I did emerge onto another VAST trail that descends rapidly down to the valley. I emerged from the woods only to discover that I was about a mile from my car... but by this point I was too tired to care and just shouldered the skis and walked up the road. After climbing Mt. Hunger on Saturday I was definitely fatigued at the end of this weekend.

I brought a camera but discovered that it did not have a memory card in it so it was just dead weight in my pack. I post this plot strictly for informational purposes -- use it at your own risk and discretion. I'm guessing that most people are not inclined to go uphill on skis for 5+ hours anyway. In the course of the entire day I saw one group of snowmobiles and one solitary skier (like me, a bushwhacker) who had climbed up from the Winooski valley side.

If there is more good snow this season I could see doing a variation of this route but just skiing down through the open woods into the Stevenson Brook basin -- I don't think it would be true glade skiing, but maybe some nice turns in the woods?


Greetings from the Mt. Hunger summit

No, it's not the Michelin Man, it's me, in a poofy jacket, trying to stay warm on a cold and windswept summit. Going up is relatively sheltered and hard work -- it warms you right up -- but when one arrives at the summit, it is both very exposed, and one is just standing around -- it gets cold in a hurry. I think it was about 10 f and there was a good brisk steady wind blowing.

Earlier in the week, Ongyel (we have climbed Mt. Mansfield, Mt. Washington, Camels Hump, and [ill-fatedly] Algonquin together) emailed me: "I'm meeting a friend to climb Mt. Hunger on Saturday" -- I replied "Sure I'll come along." I had no idea that this was some huge outing with like 30 other people at least. I usually don't enjoy big mobs in the outdoors, however the climb was steady enough so that the group did stretch out. Apparently I still have some fitness as I eventually wound up with the front group and punched my way through the snowfields at the top. But I was quite taken aback at the meeting point because the parking lot was full and I said, "um, are all these people hiking today" and the answer was "yes".

My small and closely bounded little patch of the world. Camels Hump, Waterbury, the reservoir, even my condo unit, are in this image. It was fiercely cold, windy and very bright so I would just stand up quickly in the wind, put the camera to my face, click, and duck back down again.

Stowe off in the distance: A very cold day to be Alpine skiing, but great snow conditions. Tomorrow I am planning an arduous ski in the reservoir to try and find the Woodward Mountain ski trail. Google is not omniscient: There are few online references to this rumored ski trail that I have found. If I am successful (ie, if I don't break a leg and freeze to death in the woods) I will post images and gps data here because it will be somewhat unique information that is apparently not available anywhere else.


Winter sunset, Stowe

Experimenting with a manual focus 28mm lens I bought on Ebay for $50 (Kmart brand, but surprisingly nice). A cold clear night, if I was braver I would go out with the tripod and try and get some photos of the moon and stars, but my enthusiasm is lacking for this venture.


Deja vu all over again: Feb. 13 2008

On February 14, 2007, a major blizzard hit Vermont, snowfall totals were measured in feet, and the storm was accompanied by high winds and very cold temperatures. Some images from that event are posted here.

Today, 364 days later, another significant storm -- though not as impressive as the 2007 blizzard, but still a pretty large dumping of snow -- hit. It started snowing around midnight and didn't stop until after sunset and there were periods of sleet mixed in as well. I worked from home, it was very quiet and refreshingly boring and I kept my camera close at hand.

Then (Feb. 14, 2007)

Now (Feb. 13, 2008): It's the same truck...
A male cardinal hunkers down in the morning sleet. Taken with my Tamron 70 x 300 mm telephoto lens.

Some people (so I've read) are "cat bloggers": I am more of a "squirrel blogger". I should figure out a way to electrify my bird feeder on demand, from inside my condo. That would teach this miscreant to find his own food.


Journeys (mostly) without maps

I'm privileged to live very close to Little River State Park in Waterbury. Since I moved here I have adopted the area as my own personal recreation space, particularly in the off season (there's no entry fee when the park is closed). After a long period of being sedentary (and putting on weight) I am finally waking from my midwinter somnolence and beginning to spend some time outdoors again.

The image shows GPS tracks from the past two Saturdays in the woods. The lefthand track was on snowshoes bushwhacking up from the base of the dam. The woods are quite open and it's only moderately steep in the area so it wasn't too bad. I brought the new camera, however, and this slowed me down considerably (unimpressive photos from this day in the woods here and here).

Signs that the moose are hungry in the winter woods. Tree bark does not look to be very appetizing.

The right hand track was yesterday on skis from the Cotton Brook access to the reservoir. It was the first time I had been on skis this winter and it was hardly a day for solitude in the wilderness: The local outfitter in Stowe runs snowmobile 'tours' (I don't think they last very long) in this area. I'm all for outdoor recreation but I really don't like these machines as they are very loud and emit clouds of foul-smelling exhaust that lingers in the air long after the riders have come and gone. If anyone tries to follow my track they will probably think "What was this fool thinking?" because I skied up Cotton Brook and parts of it were quite rough and there many exciting stream crossing where I was wondering if the ice bridges would hold my weight.

No solitude: I would think, that in this age of global warming awareness (as some critics have noted, it's practically a secular religion nowadays), that there would declining enthusiasm for driving to Vermont to buzz around the woods on a loud, smelly machine. On skis or snowshoes, if one is relatively quiet and attentive, it's possible to see wildlife in this area (see here and here). And I know that it's somewhat hypocritical for me to complain given that I put plenty of miles on my car while out amusing myself.


"Everybody Stares" or, Where I wish I had been, but was not, a long time ago

Thanks to the really quite good DVD collection at the Stowe library, I recently watched the film Everybody Stares. Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police had an interest in film and photography so he shot lots of Super 8 film while in the band from the period after they formed up until internal dissensions started to pull the trio apart, and recently sat down and tried to edit the footage into a coherent whole with some narrative direction. The film isn't an expose of how a band comes together and then inevitably breaks up, nor is a piece of cinéma-vérité, as the band became popular, Stewart Copeland became a famous guy with a camera, and fame skewed reality -- something he acknowledges in the film.

Anyway my purpose isn't to review this film or to recap the history of The Police -- it's to relate it to my own hazy memories of the past. When I was in high school, I lived outside of Stuttgart, Germany and many major bands played at the local concert venue (I saw Queen, Santana, Joan Baez, as well as some others I won't fess up to -- I was in high school at the time, and there's no accounting for taste). There's footage from the early years of The Police in the film, when the band was first showing up on German television, as well as from early performances at various European music festivals.

Seeing this footage really hurled me back in time, it was like watching Rockpalast (I still have a cassette, though I don't know if it's playable, of an excellent early Joe Jackson performance from a Rockpalast show) and corny stuff like the Eurovision song contest all over again. Furthermore, while I was in high school, it must have been 1981 or 1982 or so, The Police played the Sindelfingen Sporthalle, right next to where I lived, tickets weren't that hard to get -- the show may not have even sold out -- and I DIDN'T GO. Oh well -- cie la vie, it would have been fun.

So Lonely: An early Police video recorded in this time period.


Snow on 02-06-08

The repetition of content here is just emblematic of my lack of ideas & declining enthusiasm for this document at this point in time. Plus my camera is absorbing much of my current spare time which isn't such a bad thing.

Anyway the most snow of the season has fallen here in the past 24 hours. The commute yesterday was harrowing, I should have stayed home for a couple of hours, it would have saved quite a bit of aggravation. The photo shows traffic backed up on Rt 100 near Stowe as an 18 wheeler missed the curve and took out a utility pole, causing a big commotion with lots of utility workers and multiple tow trucks involved in cleaning up the mess.

And a short time lapse video showing the complete lack of activity in my neighborhood on a snowy day.

Snow on 02/06/08 from JG on Vimeo.

More images from the snowy day here.


Found drama on a Sunday morning

The camera was still set up from Friday so I pointed it at the bird feeder and set it to go off every two minutes. The red squirrel uses the feeder as his personal snack bar.

The local paper reported recently that Vermont is having an influx of owls this winter because the rodent population in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Valley has crashed and the birds have relocated here. I have kept my eyes open but haven't seen any while out and about.

Personally, between the pigeons and the squirrels in this area, a little raptor activity would be a good thing. The pigeons (see video), in particular, are not particularly welcome visitors.

The above images were taken with my new Pentax and an inexpensive 70x300mm telephoto lens. I'm still learning the ins & outs of this new setup: These were taken in Program (auto) mode and are a lot better than most of my efforts using more manual modes so far...

Found drama from JG on Vimeo.


Snow and sleet

This is what the future looks like, and it's not pretty. A layer of cold air was overriden by a warm wet storm aloft and instead of snow it was sleeting hard most of the day and the forecast calls for freezing rain tonight. There's not much snow cover at this time and I haven't been out on my Nordic gear at all this season.

Snow and Sleet, 2/1/2008 from JG on Vimeo.

I set up my little Canon (as opposed to the 'big Pentax') on a tripod and set it to go off at four minute intervals for the afternoon as the snow changed to sleet -- I was working from home.

My 'new' camera lacks some of the features of my Canon s3is -- like an intervalometer. From a little before noon until sunset I could hear the camera wake up, focus, take a photo, and then go back into sleep mode. The DSLR also lacks video/sound recording capablities.