Hiking Linville in the Rain

· Reading Time: 10 minutes

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Forest Oasis

I’ve been a little slack this month when it comes to going out for pictures.  In my defense though, the weather has been less than ideal for the most part.  Either I am looking at bright sunny conditions, or rain.  For the past few weeks a friend of mine and I have been batting the idea around to go and do some shooting at Linville Falls since he has never been to the lower trails before.  Plans kept getting changed for one reason or another.  However, when he asked at the beginning of the week about the following weekend, and I saw that there was going to be clouds I was all over it.  We made tentative plans for either Saturday or Sunday.  As the week came to a close, the weather was looking much better for Saturday morning.  There was rain coming in in the afternoon, but Sunday was largely a washout.

We made plans to get to Linville Falls about 8am.  This gave me enough time to work my way down the Blue Ridge Parkway looking for a sunrise.  I checked the sunrise forecast and found it to be dismal.  I looked at what sections of the Parkway were closed and found that the section all around Linville Falls was closed to traffic.  That would mean that we were going to have to park in the alternate gravel lot off of Old Hwy 105.  That also meant that my one chance for a sunrise would be at the Brown Mountain Overlook.  Since I was getting an early start anyway, I decided to go ahead and get rolling around 4:45 to make it to the overlook in time to assess the sunrise.

When I arrived, it was too dark to really tell much, but I could see that there were a lot of clouds above and I didn’t hold out too much hope.  In an attempt to stretch my legs I stepped out of the truck and started to look for a composition if the conditions presented themselves.  As I was sitting there enjoying the morning, I started to hear several college students in a SUV nearby.  Lets just say that they pretty much ruined the experience of standing there looking over the valley.  They were playing their silly games, and I was watching any chance of color dissipate quickly.  I gave up just a few minutes before the official sunrise and got back in the truck for the last 15 minutes of travel.

As I got close to the parking area I was starting to notice a light mist on the windshield.  This must be the low clouds because there was no chance of rain prior to 1pm.  Well, the closer I got the more the clouds were making my windshield wet.  I gave into the fact that it was raining.  This was not turning out to be a good trek at all.

When I got to the parking lot there was a steady mist, but nothing too terrible.  I decided to go ahead and get my gear on and get ready for Michael to show.  I tried to access the weather, but was unable to get any signal on my phone.  It was going to be a matter of hoping that the early morning rain would pass and leave the conditions that I was hoping for.

When Michael arrived, the rain had let up and things were looking up.  He grabbed his gear and we started down the trail.  We decided to hit the Upper Cascades first even though he had already been there.  I’ve always enjoyed shooting at the Upper Cascades and there are lots of opportunities to get different compositions there.  It was not too far off the trail entrance either so it didn’t really take much extra time.

Cutting a Path

In addition to the actual waterfalls, there are sections that show the layers of rocks that have always made for great abstracts.  The lighting was perfect for doing these, the problem was that the mist was pretty heavy at this point.  I started out using my 24-70mm lens so that I could use a lens hood with a filter attached.  Unfortunately, that lens didn’t give me the reach that I needed forcing me to swap to my 70-200mm.  With the step up ring attached for the B+W polarizer, I was no longer able to fit the lens hood.  In order to keep the rain off of the front element, I used my trusty Boonie hat which was held over the lens to keep it dry.  After about 15 minutes of composing with one hand and holding a hat over the lens, my arms were starting to hurt.  That hat started to weigh a ton in my hand, but it was doing the job!

Linville’s Whisper

One area that I have always been fascinated with is the terminal of the upper section at the top of the main falls.  The rocks have such a surreal texture to them, and the water is always rushing through.  I’ve photographed this on several occasions, but I’ve never managed to get a photograph that really captured what I was seeing.  I figured that this would be a great time to give it a try since it would mean that my camera would be pointed down.  Yes, that meant that my arm would get a break from holding my hat for a bit.  I worked out several compositions, but I enjoyed the abstract qualities of the vertical shot.  The way it all worked together, the view is forced to look deep inside of the picture for clues to what they are looking at.  By far this is my favorite photograph of this section that I’ve shot.

The rain was starting to pick up, so that meant that it was a good time to pack up and start hiking to our next destination.  Since Michael had never been to Dugger’s Creek Falls before, we made a slight detour in the main parking area to visit that quaint waterfall.  After seeing the water flow at the Upper Cascades I was hopeful for a great composition for this waterfall.  However, when we arrived, the water flow was middle of the road.  Since it was not terribly different from other times I’ve shot this waterfall I chose to keep the camera in the bag.  Michael took the opportunity to get a few shots though and really enjoyed it.  It really is a neat waterfall because of the setting that it is in.

Icy Column

Our next stop was down to the Gorge Floor.  It was a little bit of a technical hike with the water and ice on the rocks, but we have very little problem making our way down to the floor.  Once there, we were met with a very forceful main waterfall.  The ice along the banks kept us from really being able to work our way to the falls.  There were plenty of other points of interest for us to work with though.  Michael started working on some macro shots, while I concentrated on the ice coming off of the rocks as well as the secondary cascades.

Downstream

This section of cascades has always vexed me.  I’ve tried many different compositions from isolations to wide angle shots.  Each time I’ve been disappointed with the results.  I wanted to be able to capture what excited me about this section, but the balanced rock was always too heavy of an element.  As I was looking from left to right to find a composition it hit me like a baseball bat…Panorama!  That was the ticket here.  I would be able to include the entire set of cascades while avoiding a lot of negative space at the top and bottom.  The large rock would become a smaller anchor for the whole shot.  The ice I had been working on to the right became the foreground.

It was all coming together, but for me to get the perspective that I wanted, I was going to have to step out from under the trees.  That left me very vulnerable to the rain which was coming down once again.  There I was setting up a panorama with one hand holding my hat and the other manipulating the tripod and exposure controls.  Honestly, I was pretty happy with how this turned out considering the difficulty I was having working the camera.

Frigid and Foggy

While working on the panorama, one of the frames showcased the ice I had been working on prior.  I kind of liked the way the composition fell together so I composed an image that really put the ice in the spotlight.  The fog was coming in so that helped to soften the background and keep the attention on the rock and ice.  The textures really pop in this picture and I am quite happy with it, although I do think I like the landscape version better.

As I was finishing up there were several other folks joining us, and that meant it was time to go.  Once the quiet is disturbed, the creativity starts to fade away.  It was for the best though as the rain was falling heavier now and shooting was getting very difficult.  We worked our way back up the trail and took a detour to the Plunge Basin Overlook to get a good view of Linville Falls from a different vantage point.

Enter the Basin

When we got there, the rain was falling pretty good.  I wasn’t really planning on getting the camera out at all.  Michael was having a great time working the scene so I walked around and looked for a composition that I wanted to shoot.  I happened to notice some low fog on the far wall where there was some ice located.  The pool had a nice green tint to it, and the water was rather forceful which all worked together to make me really find a composition.  I decided to work my way up to the rock wall on the edge of the overlook.  Once up there, I could see that there was a workable composition on the far wall, as well as one on the waterfall.

I went ahead and fitted my 70-200mm lens, but skipped the filter since the rain was still picking up.  I actually thought about using my rain barrier on the camera, but decided that I wasn’t going to be that long to pull it out.  I relied on the weather sealing of the lens instead.  The rain was just hard enough to really concern me with the front element.  Using the hood put that fear to rest, but I had some glare to worry about in the composition unfortunately.

As I was playing around with a couple of compositions I saw that everything was actually working together and would potentially make a nice stitched photograph.  I got everything set up to shoot a panorama, and did a four shot series.  When I got home and edited it, the composition was much stronger eliminating some of the left side of the frame.  This brought it back to a more customary format which was fine by me.  I would not have been able to get this with my 24-70 since the lens hood was not long enough.  This way I kept the front element dry, and have a very large image file to print from.  That is a win win!

With the rain really falling now, it was time to make our way back to the vehicles.  What had been solid ground had now thawed and was a soupy mess.  We slogged our ways back to the gravel parking lot, comparing notes as we went.  I was still wanting to do some shooting of some old buildings that I had seen on the way, but the rain was just too heavy for that.  I was going to have to settle for the 73 frames that I had shot in the park.  I was pretty sure that I had at least three that I would like.  To find out that there were a total of seven was exciting news!

It was a fun day, even though it was rather wet.  I got some different images from Linville compared to what I normally capture.  I was elated that I finally found a way to photograph the secondary cascades downstream from the main falls.  I think that might be my favorite from the day.  I’m happy with them all, and excited to get out and do more shooting when the weather decides to improve.