The plan: Hike up to Friar’s Nose for sunset, then hike down to the Parlee Brook Amphitheatre for some star trail photography, then hike back up to the Friar’s Nose and camp for the night before enjoying the sunrise. This would give me a chance to try out some of my new camping gear and it would give me the chance to visit some amazing places that I had not yet visited.
I found Arnold’s Hollow Road and parked the car. It was later than I had originally planned. It was still light out but it would soon start getting dark. I put everything in my new pack and started to climb. The climb was constant and steady. I soon worked up a sweat and took off my jacket. I didn’t want get wet because I didn’t want to get cold when I stopped.
Eventually I reached a plateau and a small clearing where I found a trail junction. There was a trail packed in the snow entering the woods on the left. I figured this must go up to Friar’s Nose. I had already missed the sunset so I decided to continue on to the amphitheatre. The sky was clear and I hoped the stars would come out soon.
I walked down the hill and into Hidden Valley where I found a camp perched under a cliff. I then continued walking until I noticed a narrow trail entering the bushes on the left. It the failing light it didn’t look like a well trodden trail so I figured it must be an access trail to another valley. I continued walking. After walking for a while I decided to check my GPS. It was getting dark now so I had to use the backlight on the GPS and get out my headlamp. The GPS told me that I was almost to another road. From studying maps before the trip I knew that this road was beyond the valley. The trail I passed was the right trail.
I returned and found the side trail. It was a beautiful night. The surrounding hills made faint black lines in the darkened sky. The moon would rise after midnight but until then the darkness provided a perfect opportunity for star photography.
As I followed the side trail into the woods the valley started to close in around me. The slopes on either side of the stream valley were becoming steep. The hills were covered with lines in the the snow. It took me a few minutes to realize they were caused by snowballs that had rolled down the hills picking up more snow as they rolled. It looked as though someone had started building hundreds of little snowmen.
The trail criss crossed the stream. When I got further into the valley I had to maneuver up onto small frozen waterfalls. A rocky outcrop formed a sort of cave along one side. Soon I was in the main valley. I got glimpses of the scale of the ice as I pointed my headlamp in different directions. The stars were starting to shine above the valley. Sometimes the weather worked in my favor. This was one of those times.
I set up my camera and tripod. I wanted to get the full scale of the valley and include the stars. After a few test shots I set my camera to continuous mode and locked the button. Now I could let my camera do the work while I explored deeper into the valley. I walked into the valley illuminating the ice walls with my flashlight. The ice went straight up on either side. I came to a part of the trail where steps were formed in the snow. I climbed up into a narrow crack in the ice and came to an ice wall. The wall was about chest height and without ice climbing equipment I could go no further. I tried to see deeper into the valley as it turned a corner.
I returned to the camera to make sure it was working. I walked up and down the valley several times with my flashlight and flash. I wanted to have lots of options for blending the photos later on. When I felt I had enough shots I returned to the trail below the camera. Now to wait. It was now 6:40pm. I figured I would stay here until 8 to get enough shots for star trails.
For an hour I stood and watched the stars. The sky was amazingly clear and you could see thousands of stars in the crack of sky above the valley. I was wet but it was warm. Unseasonably warm for January 31. I looked to the north, in the opposite direction as the valley, and I could see faint vertical bands of light in the sky. I thought it must be faint northern lights. Only one thing could make this trip better. If my wife was here to share the experience.
After I was done with the stars I planned to turn the camera north and try to pick up more of the northern lights than what I could see. At 7:50 the sky to the north started to cloud in covering the bands of light. The lights of Sussex bounced off the clouds and lit up the valley a strange red color. It looked like I would be done my shoot earlier than planned. That was ok because I had what I had come for. The clouds eventually made their way over the valley and the stars disappeared.
I packed up my camera and tripod and hit the trail. I entertained the forest around me by singing That Song by Big Wreck. I didn’t want to surprise any animals in the dark. I also had the strong feeling that I didn’t want to attract attention either so I sang quietly. The woods at night can be a beautiful but sometimes unnerving place. On narrow trails a flashlight can throw strange shadows from the surrounding branches. I was startled a couple of times after glimpsing these shadows out of the corner of my eye but for the most part it was an amazing night for a walk in this amazing valley.
My plan was to hike up to Friar’s Nose and camp for the night. I paced myself on the climb. To keep myself motivated I would count off 50 steps and then take a break. It took me quite a few 50 steps to get to the top. Eventually I reached the end of the trail where it opened up onto the rocky lookout that formed Friar’s Nose.
I set my pack down by an old stump in the middle of the clearing and looked around to see if I could get a photo. I took out the camera and tripod and set it up. I could see the red lights on the mine in Sussex and the lights from the town. I could also see a bright patch of white light that must be Poley Mountain. I took several pictures and then decided it was time to set up camp.
I looked around and decided the best place to set up a tent was in a small patch of trees near the peak. A cliff dropped off behind the trees but the trees were thick enough to keep me from blowing over the cliff. There was a steady, warm breeze. I took out my tent and soon realized the first thing I had forgotten. The tent pegs were sitting at home on the counter. I can’t remember why they were there but I remembered that they were there. Hopefully the wind wouldn’t get any worse.
I put up the tent and used a small spruce branch to hold out the vestibule. I put my pack in the tent to hold it down while I set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag. When I was done I climbed into the tent and got ready for sleep. Sunrise would come early and I climbed up here to see the sunrise. I texted my wife goodnight and then turned my phone on power saving mode and airplane mode to save the batteries. It was my only alarm clock so I didn’t want it to die over night.
I tried to sleep but the wind was starting to pick up. The vestibule was flapping in the wind which made it hard to sleep. I nodded off while I was thinking about how nice it would be to have tent pegs. I slept on and off again for the next several hours.
At 2AM I woke up to notice that the wind had died down. It was actually getting quite warm in the tent without the wind. Before I could open the tent for some ventilation the wind returned with a vengeance. It was gusting strong now. I was heavy enough to keep the tent in place but it felt like someone was grabbing the tent and giving it a shake with every gust. The sleeping bag I had wasn’t quite doing the job so I pulled my jacket up over me. I was warm enough but the wind was loud enough to make sleep difficult. I slept on and off for the rest of the night. I woke up a few times and checked the weather. Only at 4AM did it say anything about wind gusts. Maybe it was only windy on top of this mountain.
My cell phone alarm went off at 6:30am. I thought it was funny that my alarm was nature sounds considering my location. I layed there for a few minutes and considered staying in bed. It was still quite windy outside and getting out of the tent seemed like such a cold proposition. I put on my jacket then did some gymnastics trying to put on my ski pants. I then realized the second thing I forgot to bring. An extra pair of socks. Not only did I have to put on wet socks but they were cotton socks. Putting on cold, wet socks is not a great way to start the morning. I put them in my sleeping bag for a few minutes to warm them up then cringed and put them on fast. Once I had them in my wool lined boots they warmed up.
Sunrise was at 7:45 but I wanted to get up to check out the moon and the stars. Nature was also calling and I didn’t want to have to climb out of the cold, wet tent twice. The half moon was high in the sky and the sky was starting to brighten up to the east. I took pictures of the moon but I couldn’t make a good composition with its position.
I setup the tripod in a place that would capture the sunrise. I wanted to include the small little bonsai looking fir tree that clung to the edge of the cliff. I then scouted out different compositions that would include the cliff and the sunrise. The wind was still gusting but it was warm. The mist was rising and swirling off of the distant hills. There were a couple of crows flipping and diving on the strong winds below me.
I sent Vicki a text to wish her good morning. She would be getting ready for work. I felt guilty that she couldn’t be here with me. As I was reading her reply the clouds started to light up pink. I adjusted my composition and exposure, then tried to include myself for perspective. After a couple minutes the clouds covered the sunrise once again.
After another half an hour the sun peaked through the clouds. It was getting higher in the sky now. The hillsides below were being lit up. I grabbed a few more photos and then decided it was time to pack things up. I wanted to see the amphitheatre in the daylight before I left.
Packing up a tent in strong gusting winds is exciting. I had one foot holding down the tarp underneath, one hand holding the tent and the other hand holding cover of the tent. I had hung the sleeping bag in a tree and was hoping that it wouldn’t fall in the snow before I finished my wrestling match with the tent. I was successful getting everything packed up but everything was wet. An unfortunate side effect of winter camping. I packed up the camera and tripod and then started down the hill.
The hill down from Friars Nose is steep. I skied in my boots most of the way. I came to the plateau and then continued down into the hidden valley. The large cliffs overhead were more visible today. What a spectacular place to take a walk. I thought about leaving my pack somewhere on the trail but decided to carry it with me. I didn’t want to get to the amphitheatre and realize I forgot an important piece of camera equipment in my bag.
The trail up to the amphitheatre was much different today. Half of the trail had melted out and turned into a stream. I had good boots on so I just waded. The rocky bottom provided a better grip than the ice had the night before. There were other parts of the trail where the slush had melted off of the ice making it more treacherous. I passed a small waterfall that trickled over a rock face along the trail. I hadn’t seen this small falls the night before. I wasn’t sure if it had just melted out or if I had just missed it in the dark.
The amphitheatre was just as spectacular in the light. The scale of the valley is amazing. The sound of running water was everywhere. The weather was supposed to warm up to +10C today. A very warm day for January 31st. I setup the camera at different depths of the valley to shoot video and photos. I had to watch carefully as icicles were starting to break off and fall on the trail on the valley floor. Everytime I touched the ice walls to catch my balance water would run over my hands and into my sleeves.
Eventually I felt I had enough pictures and videos. I stayed for a few more minutes to just enjoy the experience. What an amazing place. I had the rest of the day to go and check out some other trails in the area but I felt that they would all be a let down after visiting this icy valley, so I hiked back to the car and headed for home. Sometimes a place is so great that I miss it after I leave. This was one of those places. I would definitely be returning to this valley. Vicki and the kids needed to see this.
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