Linville Gorge Hike

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Friday, March 30, 2018

A Wise View

Happy Easter!  Since I had the good fortune to be off of work for Good Friday, I took the opportunity to head to the mountains for a little bit of landscape work.  It has been a long while since I’ve shot grand landscapes, and I really wanted to get back in that swing once again.  With Spring finally upon us, the mountains are starting to green up a little bit, and I figured that now was as good a time as any to go back to my beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

I have been toying with the idea of going to Wiseman’s View for some time now.  I’ve never been, but hear that the hike is a piece of cake, and the views are pretty remarkable.  From my research, I knew that the overlooks faced East, so that would make for a good setting for a sunrise.  The weather forecast wasn’t all that convincing, and I wasn’t sure how the sunrise would go.  I knew that there would be clouds, and that was a start.

Band of Gold

With Wiseman’s View about 2.5 hours away, I was going to have to get up very early in order to make it out there before sunrise.  That meant waking up at 3am, and leaving at 3:30.  This is not my favorite thing to do by any stretch, but in order to get the sunrises in the mountains, it is a necessary evil that I have to put up with.

The trip went off without a hitch, and I actually really enjoyed the fire road up to the trail.  For the first time, I was actually wanting more lights on the 4Runner because it was dark, and in some sections kind of technical to maneuver.  At any rate, I got to the parking area just after 6am which gave me plenty of time to scope out a position to shoot the sunrise from.

Overlooking the Gorge

The trail was really short and terminated at two different overlooks.  The views were incredible, and the best part was that there was lots of low laying clouds in the gorge.  I was excited about how the pictures were going to work out as the sun came up.  I started to figure out different compositions that covered several different “what ifs” because I needed some alternate plans in case the sky didn’t work the way I wanted it.

I started the morning out with my 24-70mm with the Lee Filter Holder screwed on the front just in case I needed an ND grad filter.  I started to compose the images, and did a couple of test shots to see how the sky was going to look with the long exposures.  The second image above was one of my 30 second exposures that actually picked up a good amount of color low on the horizon.  That color turned out to be my only color for the morning unfortunately.  But…I was noticing that there were a lot of clouds low in the sky behind Table Rock and Hawksbill.  I decided that this would make for a pretty good shot with the little bit of color at the horizon.

I swapped out my lens with my 70-200mm and added a 2-Stop ND filter to help keep the sky under control.  I set up a panorama by leveling the tripod, and doing a test sweep to find my focal point.  It all came together rather nicely, and I was able to capture the low clouds between the book end mountains.

Cradle the Clouds

Obviously, I was wanting more color in the sky, but this was working out pretty nice.  The problem was there wasn’t really that much change going on with the sky.  I tried some isolations with the long lens, but none of them really worked all that well.  I started to look for the morning light to hit other parts of the gorge so that I could work on some different compositions with the dramatic low sun lighting things.

As the sun came up, it started to illuminate the other overlook.  I tried to shoot it from where I was, but the composition wasn’t good at all.  I decided to pick up everything and move to the other overlook.  When I started down the spur trail, I could see that my composition was right here.  There was no need to go to the overlook because the overlook was my picture.  I actually shot quite a few images with different lighting as the sun rose.

Railing in the Sun

Of course for these, I swapped out the lens once again for the 24-70mm and added my Color Combo Polarizer to make the sky pop a little bit.  The warm sun not only felt great after a chilly sunrise, it was providing some spectacular light on the right half of the gorge as well as the overlook.  there was even a lone tree that was there to catch the light as well.

I think that the warm sun lasted about 10 minutes before the sun snuck behind a cloud.  With the warm light done, I decided to pack up and head back to the truck.  With the sky looking this great, I decided that I would try to hike up to Hawksbill for some more cloudscapes.

The drive down the mountain started to convince me otherwise.  The clouds were filling in quickly, and I wasn’t convinced that the sky would remain that dynamic for long.  I know that the hike takes a little bit of time, and time was something that I didn’t really have.  As I pulled out, onto the main road, I decided that I would try to shoot an old cabin that I had seen the last time I visited Linville Falls.

Cabin Getaway

The last time I had seen this cabin it was pouring rain, and I wasn’t going to try and shoot it in those conditions.  Today, the sun was illuminating it nicely and there was still a bit of blue sky behind it.  Interestingly, the rocking chair that I had seen in the front yard was now upside down.  Not sure if that was on purpose, or not.  I do know it made for an interesting counter element to the sign on the front porch that said “Sit Long Talk Much.”  Kind of hard to do that when the chair is upside down.

I went ahead and pulled over on the side of the road and got my gear out.  For this, I fitted my 24-70mm lens with my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and set up near the roadside.  I was having a hard time getting a cohesive composition with the two bushes and the rocking chair all around the cabin.  I don’t like putting the main focal point in the middle of the frame, but that was where it made the most sense for this composition.  I think that it worked out pretty well.

While I was shooting the cabin, I found that my main interest was on the porch…specifically the sign that I mentioned and the chairs.  It just seemed very welcoming.  I was pretty sure that this cabin was not a primary residence, and I felt that it would be ok to get in a little closer to it.  I kept the same camera set up as before, and moved in for a closer look.

Kick Back

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thinking about a monochrome image when I was composing the shot.  It wasn’t until I was processing it and started to have a hard time with the green tree to the right that I decided to give B&W a try.  I clicked the button and the color was removed.  Hmmm, I kind of like it like this.  I started to play with the color channels to get the right balance and liked it even more.  I then went in for some local adjustments and decided that this was now one of my favorite images.  The monochrome approach really set the scene and draws your attention to exactly where I want it to be.  It also has a nice timeless quality to it as well.

There wasn’t much else that I wanted to shoot on this old cabin, and the sun was starting to dip behind the clouds a bit.  I packed up my stuff and started to drive again.  I had given up on Hawksbill and decided to drive around a bit and look for some more rural settings to photograph.  I found a couple, but nothing that I was ready to shoot just yet.  In the back of my mind I was thinking about how I had wanted to shoot landscapes today, and here I was looking for rural photographs once again.  I got turned around and headed for the Parkway just a couple miles back.

When I got on the Parkway, the clouds were looking pretty good to the West.  I started to look for landscapes, but the only thing that caught my eye was the bridge for Hwy 181 as it crossed the Parkway.  I had shot it before, and the conditions were better the previous time so I didn’t both to try any new shots.  I found the closed section near the Viaduct and turned around.  I worked my way down to another closure without any further luck.  Today was not going to be the day for the Parkway, and the clouds were getting thicker.

Upper Creek Falls

I abandoned the Parkway and got back on Hwy 181 headed home.  Just as I got settled into the drive, I saw the sign for the Upper Cascade Falls.  It had been since 2009 that I visited here last.  It was a spur of the moment decision to turn into the parking lot.  Once there, I was faced with a choice.  I could go to the Upper Falls, or the Lower Falls.  I had been to the Upper Falls before, so I was kind of interested in seeing the Lower one.  The decision was made and I grabbed my equipment and started the hike.

I’ll say that this hike wasn’t the easiest to follow.  There were lots of shortcuts which had been trampled in over the years.  That made following the trail very difficult and I kept ending up on the shortcuts.  The trail zig zagged down the side of the mountain and the makeshift shortcuts connected the trail segments but required a bit of finesse to navigate without slipping.  The blazes were not that consistent and several times I wondered if I had gotten lost.  I could hear the water, so I knew I was close.  I finally got to a segment of the trail where I could see the Lower Falls and started to study it.  It was essentially a large water slide without much character.  The sun was pounding on it as well which made proper exposure difficult.  As I got closer, I saw that there wasn’t really a good place to shoot it from without getting my feet wet.  Since I wasn’t planning on shooting waterfalls, I didn’t have my proper boots for the job.  I hated to, but I turned back knowing that this was not a worth while waterfall today.  Back up the mountain I went.

Rock Wash

I made it back to the parking lot fairly quick since I had figured out how the trails worked.  I noted that the clouds were coming back in the sky, so I decided to continue across to hike out to the Upper Falls.  I recalled the hike to be rather short (since I made the return trip in the rain last time).  The more I hiked, the more I questioned my memory.  It wasn’t really that long of a hike, but it did take more time than I remembered.  Maybe that is just a product of getting older.  When I got to the base, I could see the familiar waterfall.  The water flow was good, and the lighting seemed to be pretty decent for it.  At least this time, I had a clear field of view without the fog that obscured it last time.

Due to the distance that I had to shoot it, I fitted my 70-200mm lens, and added both my Singh-Ray polarizer and the B+W vario ND filter.  Together, they allowed me to use a shutter speed of around three seconds in the daylight.  I worked the falls from a couple of positions perched atop rocks in the water.  My main goal was to keep my feet dry since I didn’t have my waterproof boots on today.
Into the Gorge
I remembered another composition that I shot the last time I was here.  It was a landscape beyond the top of the waterfall.  It had been cloudy then, so I cut most of the sky out and concentrated on the water.  It was a little awkward, but had showed promise.  The clouds were looking fantastic in the sky today, and I also noticed a nice cascade I could use as a foreground.  I swapped out my long lens for my 24-70mm fitted with the B+W Polarizer (slimmer body) and the Lee Filter Holder.  I composed the image, and saw that there was a pretty big difference in exposure latitude.  I thought about rolling the dice, but I was pretty sure that there was just goo much difference for the 5D to capture.  I went ahead and added a 3-Stop ND Grad and saw that there was still too much latitude to deal with.  I added an additional 2-Stop ND Grad which brought the scene into proper exposure.  I wasn’t able to use a very long exposure, but it was just long enough to blur the water in the foreground so I was happy with that.
With that, I was done.  The sun was getting a little harsh and I had shot all I wanted to get here.  I made the hike back to the truck in short order and got everything packed away.  It was time to head home as it was getting close to mid day.  It had been a pretty good day thus far with about 100 or so images shot.  I wasn’t sure how any of them would turn out, but I had high hopes for a few of them.  I was running through the day on the way home and thinking about how I wanted to go about processing them when I spotted an old bus…
A Wrong Turn
I remembered seeing this bus before when I was out exploring, but it had been raining at the time.  It was dry today, and it looked like the owner was there so I could ask permission to get in close to shoot it.  You see, there were signs all around stating that this was private property, and I didn’t want to violate that.  I walked in and explained what I wanted to do, and the owner was happy to let me shoot the bus.  His only request was that I did not give the location of the bus.  So that will remain a secret.
I went out to the back yard and set the camera up.  Since I was able to get in close, I opted to go with my 24-70mm lens and the Singh-Ray Polarizer.  The sun was a bit harsh since it was getting close to noon by this point.  I decided that it was probably better to shoot some isolations to capture the textures of this old bus while the sun was so bright.
Spare Ribs
Of course, the grill on this old bus was just too cool to ignore.  I shot it full on, and also used it as a framing element in other compositions.  When I was done, I realized that the interplay between the grill and the headlight was my favorite thing to work with.  I had several plays on that same theme.  Normally I would just pick the best and roll with that, but in this case, I felt that the compositions each stood well on their own.  They are similar, but very different at the same time.
it was the whole bus that had caught my eye from the road and I was dead set to photograph it before I left today.  When the clouds started to cover the sun, I saw my opportunity.  I pulled back, got down low to the ground, and framed up a shot that showed the bus as a powerful element against the bare trees and the cloudy sky above.
School’s Out
This was the image that I had wanted to get when I saw the bus.  The patina of the siding was just too perfect.  The broken windows, missing grill slats, and the flat tires just told so much of the story.  You can even make out the remains of “School Bus” just above the front windshield.  I’m really not sure that this would have worked as well with the trees covered in leaves. I’m very happy that I was able to capture this bus today.  It wasn’t planned, but it sure worked out well.
At Odds
I had set out this morning to photograph the Linville Gorge and do grand landscapes.  I accomplished that task, and added in a bit of white water photography as well.  For a landscape photographer that really should have been a full and complete day.  For me, I wasn’t totally satisfied with just that.  I got excited over the old cabin, and found myself almost giddy photographing this old bus.  I’m starting to see a change in my photography lately.  I seem to really be drawn to the subjects showing their age.  I’m not sure the reason behind it, but I’m feeling more at home with my derelict subjects these days.  I don’t know if this is a permanent thing, or something that is just due to the season.  With Spring getting ramped up, I’m sure that the answer will become apparent.
Empty Bucket
While I’m waiting on the answer to that question, I will keep shooting what I’m drawn to.  I’ll continue letting my camera tell the story about what is inside of my head, even when I’m not sure myself.  One thing I do know, I enjoy making images of what excites me, and I’ll continue doing just that for as long as I can.