VIDEO: Photographing the Milky Way Over Acadia

Video and text by Kris Roller
Video help from Nick Girard

Behind every great photo lies a story, one that describes the process and events leading up to the photograph. To me, the amount of planning and effort you put into its creation makes it that much better, and no photos require more work and preparation than astrophotos. When planning a shoot that involves the night sky, you have to take a few things into account: the equipment you are using, the location, and timing.

With astrophotography, the Milky Way is an extremely popular subject. But, depending on what part of the world you are in and the time of year, getting the perfect shot can be tricky.

Location

Generally, you want to be in an area with little-to-no light pollution. I use Google’s light pollution maps to help me pinpoint the darkest spots anywhere I travel. Also, the farther south you go, the more you can see the Milky Way and its galactic core. When you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way always faces south. So, for this photo, I knew I had to choose a location that would allow me to face in that direction, and Google Earth 3D helped me identify possible spots. And, because I knew I was shooting rock climbers, I also had to find a climbable rock that was pretty exposed to the night sky. Acadia, Maine, turned out to be perfect.

Timing

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way’s core can only be seen from February to late October. Depending on what’s in the foreground and where you want the Milky Way to be, you will want to plan your shoot during certain months. Various apps can help you organize this, and for this specific photo in Acadia, I used PhotoPills. The timing of the year was important, too, because I had to get the Milky Way a couple of hours into its initial rise above the eastern horizon. July ended up being ideal.

Equipment

Most DSLR cameras are great for shooting astrophotography. The equipment that I used was a Sony a7RII with a 24-70 mm f2.8 lens. Usually, you want to shoot the night sky anywhere from 14 to 24 mm—wide enough to see the Milky Way’s vastness. My setting was 24 mm 2500 ISO for 15 seconds. Generally, you can set the shutter speed to 20 or 25 seconds, but I had live subjects, so I had to keep it shorter than usual. Otherwise, any sudden movements would’ve made them come out blurry.

Post Processing

After I took the photo, I processed it in Adobe Photoshop first to bring the Milky Way’s details out. Then, I imported it into Lightroom to touch up the rest of the composition and balance the light on the foreground. After your shoot, there are numerous ways to process your work, but these two programs are the most common for night photography.

Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller

Song credit: “Pyrite Promises” by Dionysia


Ditch the Cold: 8 Wintertime Rock Climbing Escapes in North America

The bliss of cool Sendtember and Rocktober days has finally given way to downright cold, snow-, and ice-covered rock and perpetually numb fingertips. To us climbers, that usually means we either give in to the sterile siren song of the climbing gym, turn in our rock shoes for ski boots, or go full masochist and pick up ice tools to tide us over until our screaming barfies resign and our frozen fingers thaw. But, fear not. While your Rumney project is snowed-in, other climbing areas are coming into their prime, if you can escape the Northeast to check them out. So, take a winter vacation, dig your rock shoes back out, and sample some of the best winter climbing destinations in North America.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

The American Southwest & Mexico

The American Southwest is undoubtedly the best place to go. Plentiful sun and mild temperatures will melt away your icy Northeastern core. Whether you’re a new boulderer just getting your feet wet or a hardened tradster who isn’t ready to sacrifice your fingers and toes to the ice climbing gods, the Southwest is open to a lifetime of trips.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

The former stomping grounds of climbing legends like John Bachar and John Long, Joshua Tree’s rock formations beg to be climbed. The park is home to roughly 5,000 routes, so its variety really shines. Bring your crack skills and your rack, because you’re inside a wonderland of rocks. World-class bouldering also intermingles with trad climbing here, for those who want to stay closer to the ground.

Lodging can be had in the town of Joshua Tree, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the rock, get a spot at either Ryan or Hidden Valley Campground and walk to these world-class climbs. On rest days, go exploring the labyrinths of rock, or check out the multitude of day hikes and short loops. Don’t miss the Cholla Cactus Garden at sundown or the views of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts from atop Ryan Mountain.

Classics:

  • Double Cross (5.7+, trad)
  • Sail Away (5.8, trad)
  • White Rastafarian (V2 R)
Credit: Hayden Bove
Credit: Hayden Bove

Red Rock Canyon, NV

Its placement right outside Las Vegas makes Red Rocks a perfect winter getaway. The beautiful sandstone peaks provide ample opportunities for every sort of climber. If you’re a boulderer, check out the Kraft Boulders for concentrated bouldering, or venture deep into the canyons for a solitary experience. Sport routes are ample throughout the area, especially in Calico Basin and The Black Corridor, where great lines are just an arm’s length apart.

For the adventure climber, Red Rocks is a no-brainer, as it offers routes over 1,000 feet tall for full-day outings on bomber, well-protected rock. Stay at the nearby campground, snag a local Airbnb, or go all-out and hit the Strip to try to make back that money you spent on new cams. Rain is infrequent in this area, especially compared to the East, but if there is precipitation, be sure not to climb until the rock has fully dried to preserve the routes.

Classics:

  • Solar Slab (9 pitches, 5.6, trad)
  • Epinephrine (13 pitches, 5.9, trad)
  • Levitation 29 (9 pitches, 5.11b, mixed)
Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

Bishop, CA

A favorite among climbers, this unassuming town on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada is California’s most concentrated climbing hotspot, packed with sport destinations, world-famous bouldering areas, and alpine granite masterpieces.

The steep-walled Owens River Gorge cuts through hundreds of feet of volcanic tuft. As such, the sport climbs here are long and pumpy, favoring endurance over all else. Despite sharing the same rock as the gorge, the boulders on the Volcanic Tablelands offer more gymnastic movement, involving pockets and overhanging features. It stays much warmer here than any other climbing area in Bishop, so it’s a great option when the temperature drops.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

The real crown jewel, though, is the Buttermilks. These granite monoliths sit below the imposing Mount Tom on the edge of the Owens River Valley. They have a reputation as only a location for highball bouldering, but that isn’t true. Rather, there are classic climbs for people of all comfort levels.

The town is full of climbers, van-dwellers, and vacationers alike. Check into one of the hotels in town or make use of the Pleasant Valley Campground at only $2 a night. Being only 45 minutes from Mammoth means that you could be bouldering at the Buttermilks in the morning, and make it to Mammoth Mountain for some fresh Sierra powder by lunch.

Classics:

  • Heavenly Path (V1)
  • Jedi Mind Tricks (V4)
  • High Plains Drifter (V7)
Courtesy: Visit El Paso
Courtesy: Visit El Paso

Hueco Tanks, TX

The birthplace of American bouldering is a winter destination that still holds up to this day. Much has changed since the legendary John Sherman devised his V-grade scale here. Currently, two of the three areas, East and West Mountains, are closed to the public without a paid guide, due to a high concentration of sensitive pictographs. North Mountain is open without a guide, but climbers must make reservations in advance. Despite the red tape, it remains an awesome spot to spend a trip and provides a more private and pure experience than what you would find at places like Red Rocks.

Classics:

  • Ghetto Simulator (V2)
  • Moonshine Roof (V4)
  • Baby Face (V7)
Courtesy: Scarpa
Courtesy: Scarpa

El Potrero Chico, Mexico

Ever dream about doing Yosemite-esque, big-wall climbing with nothing but a stash of quickdraws? Dream no more, because, just south of the border, the small town of Hidalgo is a limestone paradise and more. Fly to Monterrey, Mexico, and catch a taxi, or punch it south from Laredo, Texas, for three hours to arrive in Hidalgo. Nearly everything is a sport line that is well-bolted and without crazy runouts, including 20-pitch big-wall routes.

If 2,000-foot epics aren’t in your wheelhouse, more reasonable multi-pitch outings and single-pitch cragging can be had all within a short walk or drive from town. Stay at one of the numerous campgrounds and climbers’ hangouts here, all with views of cliffs like Rancho el Sendero and Homero.

Classics:

  • Will the Wolf Survive? (4 pitches, 5.10a, sport)
  • Space Boyz (11 pitches, 5.10d, sport)
  • Gringo Disco (1 pitch, 5.11b, sport)

 

The Southeast

Long known for its outstanding climbing, Southeast sandstone is some of the finest anywhere. It’s perhaps best known as a fall destination because of places like Red River Gorge in Kentucky and New River Gorge in West Virginia, but drive a little further south towards Chattanooga and get ready to slap some Southern slopers through until spring. All of these destinations are close to each other, so hitting them all in one short trip is possible. Word to the wise: This is still the East we’re talking about, so it rains and will likely be chilly. Need a place to stay on your Southern journey, and you’re not into stealth camping? Hit up the Crash Pad in Chattanooga for a place to…crash, as well as pick up some beta on all the locations. It’s also a nice central location for all the bouldering in the area.

481658034_1280x720

Stone Fort (LRC), TN

Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City) has something for everyone: great, inspiring lines at all grades, slopers, crimps, highballs, and lowballs. The boulders are on a golf course, so park at the climbers’ specific lot and sign in at the clubhouse.

Classics:

  • Storming The Castle (V1+)
  • Mystery Machine (V3)
  • The Wave (V6)

Ricktown, GA

Rocktown, GA

More secluded than either Stone Fort or HP40, Rocktown is a newer area with fresh problems still being put up. The rock is similar to elsewhere in the Chattanooga area, with huecos, crimps, and a plethora of slopers leading to even more slopers and then to the top-outs. Free camping is possible in the lot for those looking for a longer-term visit or wanting to keep costs down.

Classics:

  • Ripple (V2)
  • Croc Block (V5)
  • Golden Shower (V5)

Horse Pens 40, AL

A remarkably dense boulder field that can be traversed in 10 minutes means there’s less approaching and more sending. Get your top-out pants on, because these routes are challenging and slopey. And, stock up on skincare materials—it’s like climbing on sandpaper here. HP40 is on private land in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians, so be sure to respect the owners. If you aren’t making use of the camping on site, pay your bouldering fee to ensure that we can continue to climb here. It’s less than two hours from Chattanooga, so it’s a good option to stay here for a few days at a time before returning to the other boulder fields nearer to the city.

Classics:

  • Bum Boy (V3)
  • Groove Rider (V5)
  • Popeye (V5)

Newsflash: American Alpine Club purchases climbers camp at Rumney

The American Alpine Club is bringing its collection of climbers’ campgrounds and huts, which includes a campground in the ‘Gunks, to the best sport crag in the East. The organization announced, today, that is has purchased Rattlesnake Campground adjacent to the Rumney Rocks Climbing Area in New Hampshire.

Previously owned and operated by a local couple, the 15-acre property sits between the Baker River and Buffalo Road, directly across the street from the Meadows and Parking Lot Walls on the crag’s east side.

“Rumney is one of the country’s finest sport-climbing destinations,” said AAC CEO Phil Powers. “With visitation on the rise, and with more than 22 million Americans and Canadians within weekend striking distance, the American Alpine Club is proud to participate in a sustainable long-term camping solution for this popular spot.”

Rumney Rattlesnake

Courtesy: American Alpine Club
Courtesy: American Alpine Club

Rumney Rattlesnake will continue to act primarily as a first-come first-serve campground with a large communal area, fire pits, and picnic tables. In addition, the AAC plans to set aside a small number of online-reservable, private campsites in the near future. Porta potties and access to potable water will continue to be available at the property’s barn, but the AAC also plans to open the barn in the future as a community space and weather shelter for climbers with full bathrooms and showers.

AAC members will see a discounted $8 per night rate starting immediately and non-members will be charged $12 per night. Dogs are also now allowed on the property.

“With the Rumney Campground now part of the AAC’s growing lodging network, we are looking forward to welcoming climbers from around the Northeast and the world to experience this wonderful place, learn, challenge themselves, and meet old and new friends,” said Powers.


Gear Checklist: Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is one of rock climbing’s fastest-growing segments. If you’re an aspiring sport climber looking to spend a day (or week) clipping bolts, this checklist will get you outfitted. So, gear up, climb safely, and start sending—rope gun not included!

_Y7A8579

Dynamic Rope

If you plan on visiting a variety of sport-climbing areas, a 70-meter rope is now the way to go. While a 60-meter length will be sufficient for many older routes, 70-meter ropes are rapidly becoming the standard. Thus, having a 70 will ensure that you don’t end up short when it comes time to send that super-long project. Most also aren’t all that more expensive than their 60-meter counterparts.

In addition to getting longer, ropes are also becoming skinnier. For a nice blend of lightweight performance and durability, look at those between 9.6mm and 9.8mm thick. Ropes below 9.6 will likely wear too quickly for first-time outdoor climbers.

On whichever length or diameter you decide, consider getting the dry-treated version. Although it will cost more initially, you’ll save money in the long run. In use, the treatment helps keep the rope dry, reduce abrasion, and prevent dirt, sand, and other particles from getting embedded into the fibers.

For one final point: Before you climb, put a knot in the rope’s free end. That way, your belayer can’t lower you off if your rope ends up being shorter than required.

Rope Bag

To help keep your cord clean, a rope bag with a tarp is a worthwhile investment. Whether it’s clipping bolts out West at Red Rocks or nearer to home at Rumney, stacking the rope on a tarp prevents sand, dirt, and mud from getting inside its strands and causing abrasion, which, over time, weakens and discolors the material. The Black Diamond Super Chute has been a longtime favorite of ours.

_W0A9202

Quickdraws

Climbers use quickdraws—two non-locking ‘biners joined by a “dogbone”—to connect the rope to the bolts. We bring 12 to 18 quickdraws for a day of sport climbing. Because most routes don’t require that many, it is a good practice to carry the same number of draws as your route has bolts, plus one or two more in case you drop one. Counting the number of bolts and checking the guide book are two good ways to figure out how many you should carry.

Depending on your priorities, you can get quickdraws with thin Dyneema runners or fat nylon dogbones. Although thin runners help keep the weight down, quickdraws with thicker ones can be very handy for hauling yourself back up to that crux move. A stiffer dogbone also makes reaching for the clip a little easier.

When we’re climbing with a group of folks who will be following the route on top-rope, we carry two “alpine draws”—a quickdraw made with a shoulder-length Dyneema sling instead of a dogbone—with locking ‘biners to clip to the anchor. It’s an easy, efficient, and safe way to anchor into the bolts at the top. It also prevents wear on the fixed gear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Assisted-Braking Belay Device

Even if you already own a belay device, an assisted-braking option like the Petzl Grigri 2 is awesome for sport climbing. They are especially useful if you’re belaying someone working a route, as they involve less effort to hold a person while he or she rests.

Harness

Because sport climbers carry minimal gear and don’t spend as much time hanging in their harnesses compared to trad or aid climbers, specific models tend to have less padding than those intended for all-around use. While these are fantastic if you’re projecting the crag’s hardman route, most of us mortals will be okay with an all-around harness. Look for something that fits well, has enough gear loops, and is comfortable enough to hang in for a few minutes at a time.

_W0A9364

Chalk Bag and Chalk

If you’re like us, just the mere mentioning of climbing, never mind racking up, causes your hands to sweat. So, clip a chalk bag to your harness, tie it around your waist with a cord, or get a belt to make sure sweaty, slick hands don’t keep you from sending.

Cleaning, Rappelling, and Self-Rescue

A cordellette, a prusik, a double-length sling, and a few extra locking ‘biners are great additions to any sport-climbing kit. Combined, they only weigh an extra pound or two and will be really useful if you find yourself rappelling, needing to escape the belay, or building a ground anchor.

Many are also adding a personal anchor system to their kit to ease the the cleaning process. Bring one on your next trip to the crag, and enjoy the adjustability and safety provided.

_W0A9346

Helmet

Visit most popular sport crags, and you’ll likely see more people without helmets than with them. But, just because wearing a helmet here isn’t the norm, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. After all, objective hazards like rockfall or dropped gear still occur. A helmet also protects your head in the event you end up inverted when taking a whipper.

Even better, helmets seem to get lighter and more breathable every season, making them so comfortable it’s easy to forget you’re even wearing one. The Black Diamond Vector offers a good blend of performance and protection at a reasonable price, and has been on our heads for the last few years.

Shoes

Today’s climbers are blessed with an incredibly large and diverse selection of climbing shoes. But, what works well for one person might not for another. It’s been our experience that, more often than not, it’s a climber’s ability to use their feet rather than a particular shoe that lets them make it to the anchors.

If you’re looking to narrow down your choices, however, a Velcro shoe or slipper is easy to get in and out of at the crag. You can slip them off for belaying or giving your feet a break when you’re not climbing, and pull them on quickly when it’s your turn to go again.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Guide Book

There’s nothing worse than getting to the climbing area, and then wandering around aimlessly looking for a route. So, before you head out, make sure to get the guide book for your destination. It will give you a general lay of the land, get you to routes of interest, and maybe even offer some specific beta. It also makes a great place to record any routes you’ve sent!

Pack

A bag between 35 and 42 liters is perfect for carrying your gear, food, water, and a camera from the car to the cliff. While any pack in this range should suffice, a handful are designed for cragging. These offer easy access to supplies, and often include items like integrated gear loops, tarps, and pockets for holding specialized equipment like chalk and shoes.

The Little Things

  • Even on warm days, a puffy coat can be a valuable addition, as it’s a great way to keep comfortable between burns and belaying.
  • Sticky-soled approach shoes like the 5.10 Guide Tennie can be a nice addition if you climb at popular locations that involve scrambling from crag to crag.
  • Accidents can and do happen, so it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit. Add a couple of climbing-specific items, like nail clippers, climbing tape, and hand warmers, especially for the spring and fall.
  • A headlamp is light, packable, and always a good idea to have in your bag.
  • If any or all of this feels too involved, a lesson with the EMS Climbing School is a great way to get your systems in place before heading out on your own.

 

This list contains pretty much everything you need for heading out to clip some bolts. But, you can add equipment to make the day more enjoyable or safer. Belay glasses to ease neck strain? An insulated water bottle for keeping cool when the pressure to send rises? Sending biscuits (Oreos) for positivity? In the comments, let us know the one thing you can’t live without at the crag!