Return to home
Total solar eclipse are not events to be missed, if you are at all awed by the majesty of the universe. Nothing is quite like that slide into 100% totality, a slide that takes only moments after waiting first for years, and then hours, and then for a final seventy minutes of partiality. Back in 2017 a group of four of us travelled to an Idaho mountaintop and experienced totality for the first time, were awed by the experience, and yearned for it again. Fortunately for us, and for many of my friends and acquaintences, nature had lined up an even better run for April 8, 2024. Better because the path of totality was longer, wider, *and* it passed very closely to my home city of Ottawa, Canada, making it relatively trivial to experience.
Viewing Spots
While the location was super-convenient for myself, my friends, and my colleagues, there were downsides: the eastern half of North America is notably more moist and cloudy than the arid mountain west, and cloudy skies are the bane of eclipse-watchers. My preferred viewing location - an airy and open mountaintop, are also far less to be found in the East. Fortunately, the path of totality passed over my "local" hiking grounds - the Adirondack Mountains of New York state, so I was able to easily call to mind several appropriate spots.

I sent out my first organizing email in January, laying out my plans. They were fairly simple: drive from Ottawa - the day before, on April 7th - to a spot near the base of a short, easy hike to an excellent viewpoint on an Adirondack Peak. Camp at-wild in the forest below the peak (following all applicable NYSDEC camping rules, of course), and then get up the next day and hike to the viewpoint and set up to watch an incredible natural show.

Plans are not good plans without contingencies, though, and I knew full well that there was at least a 50-50 chance that the cloud conditions were not going to be clear. I therefore picked and listed two or three backup locations - locations that were hundreds of kilometres away from the Adirondacks but that were still on the path of totality. Our chances of the primary and all of the backup locations being clouded-in were much less. I told everyone on the email invite list: prepare yourselves, for if the weather forecast indicates significant clouds a few days before the eclipse, I will vector off to whatever backup location has the best weather.

Those backup locations were, in order of desirability from highest to lowest: (a) the Eastern Townships of Quebec, (b) the central part of the province of New Brunswick, and (c) the Niagara Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario.
Clouds to the west
We had picked a primary location of Catamount Mountain - a small but steep little summit just to the north of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. It had the necessary characteristics: a short hike (2km) to an excellent lookout point, a nice flat section of forest down low in which to camp, and was in general a somewhat off-the-beaten-path location, which I hoped would keep the numbers of visitors down.

A week before April 8, the weather was - suprisingly - shaping up to be pretty nice across eastern Ontario and Northern New York, and my updates to our eclipse-watcher group (which had grown to roughly 20-ish people) reaffirmed the plan to drive-camp-hike to the south summit of Catamount Mountain. Several folks had decided that they would instead risk a busy border crossing and drive straight from Ottawa to the trailhead on the 8th, with no camping.
Clouds marching east
But then, as the magic day neared, the forecast started to hint at some level of cloudiness in Eastern Ontario, stretching a touch into New York State. Every 12 hours the forecast for clouds shifted a little eastward, and by Saturday - two days before the eclipse - the forecast for the area around Catamount was predicting a 3/5ths obscured sky. That was too much for me, and I sent out an email to shift to our primary alternate - the Eastern Townships of the province of Quebec, where the forecast was still for completely clear skies. That also meant no camping, and an early start to driving: 3 a.m. on April 8, with the intent to be on the road ahead of any other eclipse-chasers. The media was being saturated with eclipse stories and news, and many towns in Ontario were expecting huge crowds. If some of these people also decided to drive east, highways might become busy. There was no way I was getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to a total solar eclipse!
IBM Bromont Sunrise
We were now in wing-it mode - not knowing exactly where we'd watch the eclipse - only that we'd aim for a spot somewhere in the Eastern Townships that was deep into the path of totality. Most of us gathered at 3am on Monday, April 8th - eclipse day - under crisp clear, starry skies. We weren't all together - some in our group couldn't leave until later, and some others decided to drive the night before - but in any case we headed east along highway 417 and into the province of Quebec.

Traffic was normal for the middle of the night, which was to say, practically non-existant. That was good - we were either ahead of any eclipse traffic or our fears were overblown - either way, we were making good time. We bypassed Montreal and then headed east on Autoroute 10 towards the Eastern Townships. We all agreed to meet up at the IBM Bromont facility's parking lot in Bromont, Quebec (I work at IBM), and decide where to go from there. Standing around in the frosty parking lot, the star of the show (literally) rose above the trees to the east of us. Eclipse day had arrived!

We were way ahead of schedule. The partial phase of the eclipse started shortly after 2pm, and it was currently only 7am. That meant we had plenty of time to find an ideal location, and we agreed to take a rambling drive through the hills and low mountains of the Eastern Townships, stopping and evaluating potential viewing locations. As long as we settled at a spot by noon, we'd be easily ready for the eclipse.
Mansonville, Quebec
We spent the morning driving a lazy loop south and east from Bromont. We came within a hair's breadth of the border with Vermont but chose not to cross into the US. We stopped at a few promising municipal parks and roadside rest stops, enjoying the increasingly hilly outliers of the Appalachian Mountains in this area.

In the little town of Mansonville, not far from Lake Magog, we encountered a riverside park that had quite a lot of open grassy land, a nice area with covered picnic tables, and a convenient and not-full parking area. since it was approaching noon, and since it looked like this location was going to remain clear until at least 4pm, we decided to put roots down. Our experience of the 2024 Great North American Eclipse was going to happen right here.
Parc de la riviere Missisquoi-Nord
We took our time lugging gear, food, and chairs down to a spot along the park's walking loop. Although there was a ton of open grassy field, much of it was still too waterlogged from spring melt to support chairs, so we all ended up sitting on the border of the walking path. By 1pm, everything was set up and we anxiously awaited the start of the partial phase of the eclipse.

I had brought four cameras to try and capture our experience: my main camera (a mirrorless digital), my backup camera (an older optical-viewfinder DSLR), a GoPro, and my DJI Air 2S drone. I set up the GoPro and the drone to simply record everything nonstop. For the main camera, I affixed a 400mm zoom lens and stacked a number of neutral density filters on the front, including one variable ND filter. That way, I could fine-tune the amount of light coming into the lens at a moment's notice.
Wet fields
Set up and ready
The sky overhead was crystal-clear blue. However, off to the west, just above tree branches, I could see a little line of white. I was a little concerned that this - the advancing edge of clouds that we had been trying to outrun - were going to interfere. It wasn't impossible that they could reach over our location before totality. Not likely, but possible.

Finally, at 2:15pm and 43 seconds, the moon obscured the tiniest edge of the sun's disc. There was absolutely nothing to be noticed with the naked eye, but using eclipse glasses, or in the display of my filtered and zoomed camera, we could see the tiniest thumbnail bite taken out of the sun. The eclipse had begun!
First Chunk
Totality takes about seventy minutes to arrive after the partial phase starts, so the next little while was still a relaxed affair - chatting, snacking, and having fun with some solar eclipse tricks like making little pinhole projections onto the ground.
Slowly growing
Projection crescents
Gradually the nature of the light changed. The saturation of colors seemed to drain away, and shadows looked sharper-edged. One's eyes do a lot of automatic exposure compensation, so the true darkening of the scene around - as the sun's light dropped 30, 40, 60, 70% of normal - that sense is somewhat masked.

By about 3:15pm - only about 12 minutes before totality, we could really start to tell that we were headed for something special. Soon streetlights started to come on. the bright lamps in a nearby skating rink could now be seen shining brightly. I fumbled with various cameras and camera settings and tried to get some automated sequences set up. A few of the wispy clouds I had been worried about earlier in the afternoon had started to drift overhead but were not interfering with our view at all. We had beaten the clouds!
More than halfway
Capturing the moment
And then, with a smoothly-quickening slide that took perhaps only five seconds, the fingernail-like sliver of the remaining photosphere shortened and shortened and shortened until it winked out entirely. At the same time, a ghostly silver halo shimmered into view. Punched strikingly and sharply in the center of this halo was a perfect black circle (the circle of the unlit side of the moon, of course). Alien-looking and other-worldly, that inky black circle is perhaps the thing that makes a total solar eclipse look the most unnerving.

All eclipse glasses that remained on faces needed to come off now. Otherwise, one would see absolutely nothing of this incredible thing.

Our group and the larger set of watchers in the park let out the usual chorus of gasps, whoops, cheers, whistles, and oh-my-gods. Their amazement was entirely understandable, of course. Nothing can really duplicate the live, 3D, in-the-moment experience of sliding into totality. Anyone... ANYONE who says that 98% or 99% is pretty much as good as totality, well, frankly, they don't know what they are talking about. The difference between 99% and 100% is everything.
Totality is moments away
Between the blinding light of the photosphere (which we see every sunny day) and the ghostly silver corona (which we only see in a total eclipse) lies the fiery pink of the chromosphere - a thin ring of energized hydrogen that often sports huge prominences that stick far out from the surface of the sun. Today was a good day for chromosphere prominences, and we could see striking tongues of flamey hydrogen all around the edge of the moon's black disk. Two especially large prominences were easily seen by many in our group, and there were several discussions about them. The fact that both the corona and especially the chromospheric prominences were "not moving" seemed to be unexpected for some of today's eclipse watchers. However, when you consider the scale (the largest prominences we were seeing were over five earths wide), there is no way they could move around in real time like a campfire flame.

Elsewhere, several planets were easily visible, all aligned along the main plane of the solar system. It is at an instant like this where you really can get an intuitive grasp of the mechanics of our solar system.

We spent a too-short but still glorious three minutes and thirty-two seconds under the complete shadow of the moon. The exit from totality, while not quite as momentous as entry, is still pretty great. We could see the glow at the lower right edge of the black disc begin to brighten, and then quite suddenly, in nearly an instant, a small arc of brilliant light spilled over the edge of the moon and smoothly grew in size. The ghostly glowing halo of the corona was still visible for a few moments, generating the classic "diamond-ring" like effect. Very soon thereafter, the growing crescent of bright photosphere drowned out all other light and the amazing spectacle of corona/photosphere/inky-black-hole faded from view. We had advanced into the second partial phase of the eclipse, where the moon gradually uncovers the surface of the sun.
Returning to partial
Less than half
Last Thumbnail
After the excitement of totality and also owing to the fact that everyone had already experienced 70 minutes of partiality before totality, interest in watching mostly evaporated, and folks started to pack up, reminiscing about the amazing experience, but also about the potential challenges of a long and possibly traffic-filled drive back home. I kept the camera up and the shots going in order to get a good complete sequence of partially eclipsed sun, but I too started to gather my things.

Have a look at these two composite image sequences below. One captures the partially eclipsed sun three times before and three times after totality, and a single shot of totality itself in the center. It is a classic composite image often generated to document the sequence of a solar eclipse. The other seeks to explain what one is actually seeing when they look up and see the sun "eaten" by the moon, where it slides from right-to-left (west-to-east) over the surface of the sun, and gives you a solid sense of the moon's orbital motion around the earth.
Natural Sequence
Explained Sequence
Thanks to everyone who attended and followed me around on the random ramble to find a spot to watch. I think it all worked out quite well. It was a great experience!

Please check out the video below to get a better feel for our experience:
A video of our experience of the 2024 Great North American (Total Solar) Eclipse

Drone only 20 second timelapse of eclipse

Notes to myself as to what I could have done better photographically (aka things I did wrong):
  • Make sure intervalometer of secondary "big" camera has enough intervals to make it through the total phase, and start it 2 minutes before totality. 120 shots at separations of 4 seconds should be good.
  • Secondary big camera should be set to AV / ISO 800 / f/8 / -3 stops exposure compensation. Focus on the lead camera. Remember to turn IS off.
  • Use the long lens plate on the tripod that is holding the main camera and big zoom lens!
  • Maybe get a dedicated solar ND filter to reduce stacking and increase quality
  • Remove any affixed neutral density filter from drone camera before flying!
  • Variable ND on very front of main camera is a good idea, worked well
Send feedback or leave comments (note: comments in message board below are separate from those in above message board)
(Message Board failed to initialize. )
Web Page & Design Copyright 2001-2024 by Andrew Lavigne. (Privacy Policy)