At the last minute, I was reminded that the 2017 Orionid meteor shower was going to be peaking on a moonless night. Furthermore, the weather forecast was for mild and clear conditions over much of Eastern North America. So... without anything to do on a Friday night, I decided to do something a little impulsive - quickly pack my bag, head to the Adirondacks, climb to the top of Ampersand mountain, and spend the night wrapped up in a cozy bag, watching the autumn night sky.
Traffic and stars
So, after a hasty bit of after-work packing and the drive down to the Adirondacks, I found myself standing across the from the trailhead. The highway itself was fairly busy with traffic to and from the Lake Placid / Saranac Lake area, but the Ampersand Mtn parking lot itself was.... empty. Time: 10:15 pm.
Headlight firmly affixed and ready to take off layers (it was quite mild for late October), I headed off along the mostly-flat first part of the Ampersand Mountain trail. After walking 500 yards in I realized I forgot a few things in the car, and had to drop my pack and run back to get them, further delaying my climb. By the time I got back to where I dropped my pack, it was already 11pm.
Trudge, trudge, trudge. In my small pool of light, carved out of the darkness of the moonless night, things seem very close - especially with the mild air and no wind. As I finally started to ascend (the Ampersand mountain trail is fairly flat for over half of its length, only angling upward steeply at the end), a light gusty breeze began to be felt. Hopefully not too windy, I thought, for I wanted a nice stable camera for some long exposure shots.
I arrived a the open rock near the summit shortly after 12:30 a.m. It felt a bit creepy to be up here in the dark on my own, but also peaceful and beautiful. Overhead, most of the sky was clear and sprinkled with stars, although there were a few bands of high clouds near the horizon. They reflected some of the light from the nearby communities of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Orion shone especially prominently in the southeastern sky. This was good, since I was here tonight to see the Orionids.
I climbed up and over the pointy knob of Ampersand's summit. I planned to sleep out in the open, under the stars, and I wanted something a bit more private than anything on the trail/approach side of the summit. Ampersand is good for this, since there's a large area of open bedrock - in many places flat - a bit beyond and down from the summit, on the other side from where the trail is.
I found myself a little trench in the bedrock to set up my sleeping spot. I had brought a lot of extra insulation to ensure a nice warm bivy: -12C bag, and a 10-degree overbag on top of that. A thin foam pad plus my thick Neo-air mattress rounded out my bed. For clothing, I had my long underwear and several layers of synthetic tops. And even a full pillow for extra cushy comfort.
In the breezy air atop Ampersand, I laid everything out, layered up, and then set about to try and capture some Orionid meteors.
Orion, Taurus and Gemini
I set up my camera to take 40 shots of 10 seconds each for a short star trail sequence, and then sat back and gazed up at the sky to watch the show. A point off of the left shoulder of Orion, between it and the constellation Gemini, was the radiant point of the shower - meaning that any meteors from this event would seem to radiate from there.
Minutes went by and... hm, nothing. Would have expected at least a few by now, especially considering that the peak was apparently during these very early morning hours of Saturday morning.
I looked and looked and looked, and eventually I saw one little Orionid - faintly blipping into existence for maybe a second. There were some high clouds that had drifted across a big chunk of sky, obscuring some directions, but even so, this seemed pretty underwhelming. Perhaps my long time-lapse would capture some meteors I just happened to miss.
Not seeing much to inspire me, I felt the pull of my warm little cocoon, soon deciding to call it a night (after all, it was after 1:30 a.m.). With a zero-percent probability of precipitation, I felt comfortable leaving all my stuff out in the open around me. It was wonderful to drift off under the twinkling stars, with the breezy air of the summit felt only on my face - unable to penetrate all of the layers I had around me. It was well beyond bug season too... no little pests to ruin the peacefulness.
Pre-dawn on Ampersand
I awoke to the sound of voices. Initially I thought people were right near me, but no - it was a pair of early-morning hikers just arriving on the nearby summit to take in the approaching sunrise. My decision to camp beyond the summit had been a wise one.
I got up at this point, also wanting to catch the unfolding approach of morning. Soon, two more hikers arrived - a young couple, perhaps university students. I got out my tripod and took shots in the lightening dusk.
It was prettty much clear, and that meant a nice - but not especially spectacular - sunrise (the best sunrises and sunsets are when there are high clouds upon which to reflect the early / late rays of the sun). Now fully morning, I set about packing up my stuff and getting ready to head back down to the trailhead.
Sunrise over the Adirondacks
Eastern Ampersand Lookout
Enjoying the morning rays