weekend waterfalls

This past weekend was a beautiful one. With it being in the 80's in Albany, and probably just as hot up north in the Adirondacks, it's easy for people to think the snow must be melted in the mountains and they become eager to get outside.

Spring is mud season in the Adirondacks, and brings with it high water and a mix of trail conditions, from hard ice to soft snow to deep mud. These conditions change quickly and aren't uniform, so it can be frustrating switching between microspikes and snowshoes frequently. For those who choose not to bring traction, they find themselves scratched up and exhausted from post-holing in the sections of deep snow. So when Ted’s officemate invited us to hike Dial and Nippletop on Saturday, after reading recent trip reports indicating these frustrating conditions currently exist up north, I decided to ride up to the Ausable Club with them and explore the drier trails along the river on my own.

Spring might not be great for high peaks, but it can be awesome for waterfalls and getting moving water shots. Ted bought me a 9 stop neutral density filter for Christmas last year, and I finally got a chance to practice using it.

I started by hiking up Lake Road and stopped at the flume, then cut over to Beaver Meadow Falls, then followed the river up to Rainbow Falls, crossed the dam, and headed back along Lake Road with a short detour along Gill Brook. The flume is very easy to get to and is just off the side of Lake Road, which is a private dirt road hikers must walk to access the trails off it. I spent some time setting the tripod, playing with camera settings, and swatting surprisingly few bugs. The surrounding trees shaded the area enough to get up to 20 second exposures with the filter, though there was more light at the rest of the waterfalls so a full 20 seconds wasn’t necessary later on. Over the course of the day, I shot between f11 – f22, ISO around 100, and experimented with shutter speeds between 4 and 20 seconds. At each stop, I started with whatever settings were set from the previous waterfall, and adjusted the settings based on whether there was more or less light and how I wanted the photo to look. The biggest downside to the longer exposures (or some of the shorter ones even), was the blur in the trees due to wind. I crossed a small, narrow bridge over the river just before approaching Beaver Meadow Falls, and I liked that the view offered the rushing water, rocks, trees, and the mountains in the background. I knew this would be a difficult photo to get with the constant wind, but I decided I’d live with the slightly blurred trees to capture the view because I really liked it. 

The most difficult aspect of the day was doing it alone. I thoroughly enjoyed being out there on my own, hiking at my own pace, taking my time with each shot and figuring out the settings. However, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I would have done even better if Ted had been with me. Ted is usually my assistant; he helps carry the gear, helps set up the tripod and is an extra set of hands for swapping lenses, filters, etc. He also has a better understanding of how the camera works and gives advice on which settings to adjust for more skilled shots. Rainbow Falls was particularly misty and a light shower passed while I was there, so I had to be careful to keep everything dry. That’s when I missed the extra set of hands the most! In the end though, while not perfect, the photos are beautiful and I’m proud to have done as well as I did without any help or guidance. I’m excited to be teaching myself photography and learn more with every trip.

Since I was back at the trailhead before the others, I headed across the road and hiked to Roaring Brook Falls, where I relaxed for an hour or so and talked to families who also ventured in.  Back in the parking lot, I met back up with the three tired hikers, thrilled to have bagged two high peaks and finally made it back to the car. We hung out for a while in the lot, as we met two men, Dennis and Sonny, who offered us a beer and shared stories of their years of mountain adventures together. They are both in their late 60s, and Dennis identified himself as the first person to complete the little-known 770 list (770 mountains in the northeast over 3000 feet). They were visiting New York to do trail work on Dix with the 46ers on Saturday and planned to do a bushwhack up Knob Lock on Sunday. For having completed a hard day of trail work, I was surprised at how happy, upbeat, and enthusiastic they still were. Our day finally ended with a late dinner at Noonmark Diner and a two hour drive home.

After hearing about the trail conditions along the ridge, seeing Eric and Dani’s scratched up legs, and later reading Facebook posts by friends who encountered tough trail conditions, post-holed themselves to exhaustion, and didn’t make it to their summits, I never felt so good about my decision to stay in the valley.