Categories
Landscapes Riverscapes Whitewater

New River Gorge Weather

– Cloud waves splash the Endless Wall of the New River Gorge, climbing up and over it, like an air-river hovering above the New.

One unique benefit to landscape photography is that it forces you to become more in tune with local weather patterns. The best time to get the dramatic clouds and sky are right before or after a storm moves through. As we all know, the beautiful colors come out during sunrises and sunsets.

The New River Gorge has carved an 800+ feet deep ravine in the Earth. It drains the largest watershed East of the Mississippi River, before eventually pouring into that river after joining forces with a few other major rivers along the way. Just East of Fayetteville it joins up with the Gauley River (also world-renowned for its powerful whitewater rapids and recreational rafting and kayaking). Those two rivers form the Kanawha River, which eventually dumps into the Ohio River.

An interesting fact about the New River is that it flows North, which is atypical of most of the other rivers in America. The headwaters are in Western North Carolina and she picks up more and more water as she cuts across the grain of the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and Southern West Virginia.

Only 5 minutes after sunrise and you can see the colors begin to fade. Yet the cloud waves are still splashing against the endless wall.

We know that many weather patterns are effected by warm air currents in the ocean and that storms occur when they meet with cold water currents or cold air currents moving above the waves.

It seems logical that similar movements of warm air and water currents can create unique weather patterns around a geographic feature as massive as the New River Gorge.

Oftentimes in the winter, snow will fall in the New River Gorge but it won’t reach the ground near the water because the warm air above the river melts the snow before it can contact the trees, rocks or ground.

It is my personal theory that doppler radar, and other instruments that measure atmospheric pressure and other readings that effect the weather may not be sensitive enough to detect the variations of weather patterns in the New River Gorge.

A unique observation that I have witnessed multiple times takes place at a spot along the rim of the New River Gorge called Diamond Point. At this location the river has been flowing almost due North and it takes a sharp, 90-degree-angle turn to the West just downstream of the Keeneys Rapids, just before Dudley’s Dip Rapid.

As the clouds follow the river, flowing downstream, they strike the rocks in the Endless Wall at that 90-degree-angle. When they do, the clouds behave just like water on the river when it strikes a rock. The clouds climb up the rock and roll back over onto themselves in the same manner that the water in the river creates a pillow on the rock. For all of you who’ve been down the Gauley, imagine Pillow Rock but in slow-motion.

PREVAILING WINDS

The prevailing winds travel from West to East. Watch any weather forecast and the meteorologist stands in front of a giant graphic with arrows pointing East to represent wind direction. However, in this instance, the winds were traveling West. They just weren’t breezing either. These winds were gusting! I don’t have a wind measuring device. Although my watch DOES have a barometer on it. By observation alone, I can say they were probably gusting about 20 mph. They were blowing West, moving with the river, heading downstream.

CLOUDS ARE WATER

One of the coolest things I witnessed was the clouds, or fog, or condensed moisture, behaving just like the river. As it moved downstream it collided with the endless wall. The water climbed up, over and out of the New River Gorge. Then, it fell back into the Gorge. It was almost as if the fog were a light, cloudy air-river that hovered above the New River water river.

With all of these different air currents moving in different directions, we can be sure of one thing. There MUST be swirling vortexes of air and moisture in the sky above the Gorge. If this is the case, perhaps there are mini rain storms within the Gorge.

Have you ever been on the river when it’s raining and the clouds are so low in the Gorge that you can’t see the rim? I have many times. In those situations I wonder “is it raining outside the Gorge or could it possibly be sunny?” I don’t know. It’s impossible to be in two locations at the same time.

Yet, I’ve been close to witnessing this phenomenon to be true. One time it was raining steadily, before we got to the Fayette Station takeout. As we were driving up out of the Gorge, the clouds were below the bridge and it was not raining up top. However, it had stopped raining as we were driving up Fayette Station Road, so I can’t say for sure that it was raining below the bridge and not above it. Someday, maybe we will find that to be true.

Categories
Adventure Sports Photography Landscapes Whitewater

Long Exposure Photography Raft Guide Training

Long exposure of the sunrise in Thurmond, West Virginia. This is where a typical Spring rafting trip begins for the Lower New River Gorge.

Introduction to Long Exposure Photography

To achieve the unique look to this picture requires a few things. First, you’ll need a neutral density filter. An ND filter is a piece of black glass that reduces the amount of light that reaches the sensor of your camera. The advantage of this is to allow you to open the shutter for an extended period of time without overexposing the image.

Second, you’ll need an intervalometer. An intervalometer is an apparatus which plugs into your camera and allows you to do numerous things with the various settings. In this situation, it allows you to set the shutter speed for a length of time which is more than the camera’s maximum setting of 30 seconds. This image was a 300 second-long exposure.

Another filter I recommend is a circular polarizing filter. Reflected light tends to desaturate colors, especially the blues and greens of nature. A polarizing filter allows you to eliminate reflected light from reaching your camera sensor. Much of the light in nature is reflected off the leaves in the environment, as well as the atmosphere which creates our blue sky.

Additionally, a circular polarizer reduces glare caused by sunlight reflecting upon the surface of water. Most of my photography takes place beside a river. In this situation, you’re definitely going to want that. The reason the polarizer is circular is so that it can be rotated to filter the light rays at whatever angle they are being reflected.

Finally, you’ll need the right kind of clouds. Since we have no control over that, we’ll just have to leave that up to a little bit of luck and timing. The only way to get better at that is to continually watch the weather and practice often. This is what I’m working on now.

Spring Raft Guide Training

One of the reasons this location is important to me is because it reminds me of a pivotal moment in my life.

Spring is a special time for me in the New River Gorge. This is the time of year when I trained to become a raft guide in 1997. After my accident and discharge from the Army in 1992, I was left wondering what to do with my life. When I heard about raft guide training in West Virginia, I knew that was the answer.

The year was 1994 and I was working in the summer as a lifeguard for the city of Columbus at Maryland Pool. It’s located not far from East High School, which is pretty close to Bexley, the small city where I grew up.

It was the end of summer and I was talking to my friend, Beth about her plans for college and I said: “well, I guess I’ll just see you next year.” To which she replied, “I’m not coming back next year. I’m going to West Virginia to become a raft guide.”

At that moment, the needle on the record of life made a scratching noise and came to a complete stop. Everything around me quit moving and came to a simultaneous pause. Silence fell upon the Universe.

I remembered my very first rafting trip down the Snake River in 1985 with my family on a vacation to Wyoming and asked her “So, are you just going to fly out to Wyoming and become a raft guide?”

“No. West Virginia.” She went whitewater rafting every year with her family in West Virginia. She asked her raft guide how to become a guide and he told her about training.

Photo of me raft guiding through Upper Railroad Rapid on the Lower New River Gorge in 1997. I was working for Mountain River Tours rafting company, based out of Hico, West Virginia. Photo by and courtesy of Whitewater Photography and Terry Ritterbush.

Raft Guide Living, 1997. My friend Travis and I in front of our summer homes at the Mountain River Tours campground. Living out of a tent was a great experience. Photo by my friend, Doug Ludwig, who lived in the “Tent Mahall” next door.

Raft guide training takes place in the Spring. Most people come from Virginia, West Virginia or, like myself, Ohio. Every weekend we went rafting on Saturdays and Sundays. We learned all kinds of unique skills like how to read whitewater, how to upright a flipped raft and how to get a stuck raft off of rocks.

It was a truly unique experience. Every weekend I enjoyed those rafting trips, hanging out with my new friends around the campfires and just genuinely happy about the next stage in my life.

There were a few reasons I enlisted in the Army. One was adventure and travel. I have always loved being outside and out in the natural environment. That’s where the Army trained to fight and that’s where I wanted to be. Additionally, I wanted the camaraderie or culture of a group of like-minded people. At the time I didn’t realize it, but those two things were what raft guiding replaced in the loss of my Army career.

Categories
Kayaking Landscapes Whitewater

Autumn Leaves River Photography

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Lost Paddle Rapid

October 22, 2017. Kayaking buddies enter the 4th drop of Lost Paddle of the Gauley River the last day of Gauley Season, 2017. It was a warm, 80* day and the leaves were just beginning to change. This is also a little bit North of the New River Gorge and it seems like the colors start to change a little earlier up there.

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Dawn of Autumn

The sun rises over the New River Dries on October 24, 2017. An unseasonably warm start to Autumn and a lack of rain had us waiting a little longer for the changing of the colors in the New River Gorge, WV. I was on my way to school but I just had to pull over and grab this image. I was late for my World Religions class at West Virginia State University, but I still got an A for the class.

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Piece of Cake Rapid

Lower New River. November 3, 2017. Autumn Leaves Journal: The leaves have started to peak. It was a little late this year with the unseasonably warm temperatures and the lack of rain. On October 31 the temperature finally dropped and it rained quite a bit. The leaves changed, practically overnight. On this day I went kayaking with my neighbors, Tennyson, Josh and Nick. That’s what we do in West Virginia. We go out and play in the New River Gorge.

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New River Gorge Bridge Autumn Leaves

November 3rd, 2017 and the leaves in the New River Gorge are just beginning to change. It was unseasonably warm and dry for a long time, then we started getting rain on October 28 and the temperature dropped considerably.e earlier up there.

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Upper Railroad with Train

Autumn Leaves Journal 2017: On November 5th the leaves were in full peak. When it rained on Halloween and the temperature dropped, the colors came out. On this one particular day, it was the perfect photography day. Stormy clouds were passing overhead throughout the day. There were patches of sunlight in between. Fortunately, I had my truck at the takeout and could spend the whole day photographing the New River Gorge. It was the peak day for this year’s leaf season.

I was digging this view of Upper Railroad Rapid from river left. I’ve never been at this particular spot and while I was there a train drove across the bridge.

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Frog Rock

Autumn Leaves Journal 2017: The series continues, with almost all of my best pictures from Autumn coming from November 5th. The pattern of the leaves weren’t anything like the website predicted. This particular day was filled with so much color. Not just the leaves, but the sky was changing constantly throughout the day. We had stormy clouds and light whispy clouds, just as in this picture. This was the third rapid I got out to photograph and there would be two more. Golden Hour arrives a little early in The Gorge because it sits 800 feet below the mountains.

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Hook 99 Rapid

Looking Upstream from Hook 99, a rapid on the New River Gorge. On this day, Golden Hour hit around 6pm. The light shining through the clouds was just what I wanted. I was approaching Hook 99 rapid when I turned to look upstream and I just had to get out of my boat and make a record of such a beautiful sight.

I stayed at this spot for almost 45 minutes and shot 64 images. This is a composite of 7 of my favorites. There’s a lot of debate online these days about photographers wanting other photographers to be up front about their claims as to whether an image is a composite or a single frame. Maybe you’ve seen the debate about Peter Lik’s image. What a bunch of crap. Who cares? Art is art. An image is an image. Yes, this is a composite. I make composites because my camera’s sensor does not have a range to record all of the colors of nature and compositing is the closest I can get. There, take that pixel-peepers! Lol

To be clear, Hook 99 Rapid is not where Mark Harmon died. I’m sick of raft guides telling that to their guests. Mark Harmon was one of the pioneers of canoeing the New River. He flipped his canoe, which had the number 66 on it, and wrapped it around a rock in this rapid. While the canoe was upside down it looked like a 99. Hence, Hook 99.

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Twilight on Autumn Leaves in the New River Gorge

My final picture from the Autumn Leaves 2017 series. November 5th was the epic, quintessential photography day for me this year. Every time I thought the light was going to disappear, it got better. Just as the sun began to set beyond the rim of the New River Gorge, the light became absolutely surreal. It was one of those times where everything just glowed. All of the colors were brighter and more vivid. Every leaf in the gorge looked like it had electricity flowing through it.

I was in between Upper and Lower Kaymoor rapids and I just had to pull over immediately to get some documentation. This was one of those surreal moments that just begged me to use my fisheye lens. I have this 15mm fisheye lens that I bought in 2009. I hardly ever use it. It definitely calls for a special occasion. Interestingly enough, I hardly ever bring it out on the river because space in my dry bag is at a premium. For some reason I had it on this day and it truly fit the bill. This was the picture that really capped off an unusual fall.

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Epic Photography Days of Autumn

November 5th was the epic Autumn Leaves photography day for me in the New River Gorge. This year I decided I wanted to record the weather patterns and temperatures from my perspective. Not very scientific, but simple.

In fall of 2016 I was on my way to the Gauley River to go kayaking. It was after Gauley Season, the first week in November. About the same time as this in 2017. The weather patterns were very similar. I’m driving to the takeout to run shuttle and listening to the radio station. The DJ says “with a high of only 70.” Only 70?! In the first week of November? Are you for real?

I remember as a kid that if Halloween came and we didn’t have to wear a jacket, it was amazing. It was the luckiest day of the year. 70 degrees would have been unheard of.

I don’t know if climate change is a real thing or if we are just in the midst of a cycle that is bigger than our manmade instruments can measure. Either way, it’s worth documenting. Thanks for reading.

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Categories
Landscapes Whitewater

Same Bridge Different Days

In July and August of 2017 I decided I wanted to photograph the New River Gorge Bridge from the exact same spot on different days. This idea came to me based on the fact that the New River Gorge Bridge is always there. The Gorge is always there. But the weather is always changing.

I noticed this after 20 years of whitewater kayaking the New River. Yes, it took me that long to make that observation. Lol. The New River Gorge is an amazing place. No other geographic location has had a bigger impact on my life than the New River Gorge. I even moved to Fayetteville, the town closest to the gorge, and built my life around kayaking. The New River is the most consistent, year-round river to kayak, that I know of. Plus, the people in this community are awesome.

New River Gorge Bridge sunset. Long exposure.
New River Gorge Bridge sunset. Long exposure.

The New River Gorge Bridge is the Western Hemisphere’s longest, single-span arch bridge. It spans one of the oldest rivers in the world, the New River. The bridge sits 876 feet above the surface of the river. It was completed in 1977. Before then, people had to drive down to the river and cross that small bridge you see in the foreground. That bridge is commonly called the Fayette Station Bridge but it is officially named the Tunny Hunsaker bridge. Tunny Hunsaker was the Fayetteville police chief for a long time who was also a boxer. He actually fought Muhammad Ali.

As I have been transitioning from a video boater to a graphic designer I realized just how photogenic the Gorge really is. There are so many amazing places to photograph. One could spend an entire life time photographing JUST the New River Gorge.

new river gorge bridge sunset
new river gorge bridge sunset

As I mentioned, one of the great things about Fayetteville is the river community that has sprung up around it. The local kayak shop even provides a free shuttle on Wednesday night! It’s kind of a regular thing for the local boaters here. Nowadays, I take my camera on the river with me. Each Wednesday, I took my camera on the river to see what I can get.

These pictures were all shot from my new favorite location to photograph the bridge.

New River Gorge Bridge sunset after rain.
New River Gorge Bridge sunset after rain.