Eclipse Plans

The plan to view and photograph the 2017 total eclipse has shifted considerably over the past few weeks, but my general outline is to get up around 2:00-3:00am on Monday, take the bike down to the Three Pyramids Trailhead, hike in, hopefully reaching one of the pyramid summits an hour or two before things really get cooking. Once I know we have a spot, a good view and clear weather, I will breathe a sigh of relief and true excitement can begin. There are a whole lot of variables and a few rolls of the dice need to turn in our favor, but the rewards could be magnificent.

My planning (and lofty expectations) began in April. Part of me wishes I were out in the eastern Oregon desert at one of the viewing festivals with hundreds of thousands of other lunatics, virtually guaranteed clear skies and optimal conditions. But with visions of minimal crowds, epic foregrounds and major-league photography in mind, I set my sights long ago on the Cascade Range — first the Obsidian Trail, then the Three Pyramids. I am going to stick to my plan unless conditions deteriorate.

My dream scenario:

  • Leave Portland around 3:00am, enjoying a smooth motorcycle ride to the trailhead without getting lost or cold
  • Arrive 6:30am and find about a dozen cars in the parking lot — enough to know we will share the magic of the eclipse with other humans but not have to worry about over-crowding
  • Enjoy a steep 2.1 mile hike, ascending the 1,700′ of trail with plenty of time to spare
  • Reach the summit of Middle Pyramid to discover clear skies in all directions and claim a good vantage point, looking SW toward Three Fingered Jack
  • Break out the Jet Boil for a hasty coffee and breakfast, set up tripod, camera and shutter release
  • Watch as the Moon begins its initial transit across the Sun
  • 10:18am – The Sun is now eclipsed in total, and for two magical minutes, the whole sky darkens. We sit there in awe. I will probably yell and swear excitedly a lot. For the first (and probably only) time in my life, with a smattering of stars as backdrop I will view our Sun, Moon, and half the planets in the solar system all in the same sky, with incredible mountains all around.
  • I snap four deliberate photographs, about 6-12 seconds each exposure, every neuron in my mind cranking at 150%, acutely aware that these will be two of the most unique minutes to transpire in my entire life
  • 10:20am – The shadow of the moon tears away, racing east at over 1,000mph as the Sun begins to re-emerge. The climax is over, and I have read it will be anticlimactic! Hopefully I will be talking excitedly with Lauren and whoever else is nearby before stopping to review what I captured on the camera
  • The four tiny images on the digital LCD screen show great promise, and I smile ear to ear and also enjoy that warm feeling of relief from within once again, knowing that I captured a great moment in the spirit of my original, long-planned vision
  • We lounge in the returning daylight, explore the other peaks, have a lunch. Not to jinx anything, but maybe we should bring a mini bottle of champagne to celebrate with
  • The hike back to the motorcycle is pleasant and spirits are high
  • We pack away the heavy warm clothes we used for the pre-dawn ride and return home like champions on a 35 year-old motorcycle, basking in the heat of the sun and blowing past 1.5 million people in cars trying to get back to Portland (slowly, steadily, in the breakdown lane)
  • Get back in the city and process the photos. Celebrate. Share the photos. CNN picks up the story. Become instant millionaire.

I said dream scenario, right?

I just got the ultra new Sigma 24-70mm 2.8 Art Lens today in the mail. It’s so new and niche enough of a product that I’m guessing only a couple dozen have reached consumers so far. I’m lucky, but it’s very heavy. Tests around the house lead me to believe it is as good as I had expected, if not better. I am debating whether to bring the new Sigma or the more sensitive (but limited) Rokinon 24mm 1.4 prime. The Rokinon is a lot trickier to use but it can produce stellar (pun intended) results, especially when capturing stars.

Even though the new Sigma is three times the price of the Rokinon, learning curve is always a factor. I learned that lesson renting high-end lenses before big trips in the past, always finding my image quality taking a step backward before it gets better, despite the better optics. The Sigma 24-70mm is a purchase, but it’s just as new and foreign to me as a rental lens would be at this point.

Anyhow, outside of crushing regional traffic and motorcycle breakdowns, the major concern at this point is smoke from the Whitewater Fire obscuring the view. We experienced hazy conditions last week in Portland from distant fires up north, but the winds have shifted and it’s beautiful again out here this week. I am not sure what to expect on the other side of the Cascades on Monday. I hope it’s somewhere between good and pristine, but it is definitely a gamble.

The optimistic side of me knows that smoke will cling to the earth when the atmosphere is still cool in the morning. Being in the eclipse totality means the Moon’s shadow will surround us for thirty miles in every direction, producing sunset-like horizons in every direction. With a little luck, the skies overhead will be clear, but the low-lying haze will turn crimson or orange for 360 degrees around us during totality.