Dolomites Fall 2022

Un(fullfilled) expectations and Covid rehab

This time my travel started with a feeling of letting somebody down. I've experienced that many times before but it was never that present as it was this time. When I decide to go on a photography trip (most of the time a solo hiking trip is included) it is kind of an egoistic decision to make. It's me going on a  trip. It's rarely us. It also means that you leave your family, your partner and your work behind. I'm aware that in this situation I do not meet their expectations to the fullest although they all treat me to do those trips wherever they can.

But that feeling never really goes away. In most cases it gets overlapped by the joy and excitement of the journey and the adventure ahead. From time to time this feeling of guild shines through but but I'm slowly learning to treat myself to do the things I love.
In general and as soon as I hit the road and pump up the volume of the music I get a feeling of joy but this time was different. I knew I let somebody down to take that trip. 
So for me this was a trip where the constant struggle of meeting your own and other expectations became clearly visible. It starts a process where the feeling of not meeting someone else expectations leads to an increased pressure of making the best out of the time you have. Maybe you can relate to this: In for a penny - In for a pound. 
I've let somebody down so I better make it worth it. In my world: You better come up with great photos and awesome experiences.
Not the best way to start a trip. That's for sure.

Furthermore this trip could be seen as a rehab from illness. I had Covid the days before. I wasn't able to work and so there was another decision to make: to use the long weekend with a day of vacation squeezed into it to be able to drive to Italy. On the first day I tested negative I hit the road. To the feeling of disappointing others also comes that I wasn't sure if I would be able to go to the locations I had in mind. Luckily the fresh air in the mountains had a positive effect on my lungs and after the first short hike that doubt was gone.

I had 4 days but a list of 5 targets that I wanted to shoot:

  • Tre Cime & Cadini di Misurina
  • Parco Naturale Dolomiti  Friulane & Campanile di Val Montanaia
  • Lago Federa

One of the things that separates a multiple day photography trip from a single shooting of one location is that beside the obvious subjects you can shoot so much more. Those are the pictures which are not planned beforehand. You only react to what you see and most of the time you come up with the more original pictures.

But to get into a bit of a shooting rythm I began with shooting two icons. I arrived at 2 a.m. at the parking lot of the Tre Cime and slept for about 2 hours. Still at night I started my hike to one of the most famous spots for shooting the Cadini di Misurina. But blame it on my lack of sleep, the darkness or my post covid constitution, I wasn#t able to find the was to that spot. As the morning came closer I decided to stop looking for the spot and instead tried to find my own angle of the motive.
I did not have spectucular light, but as the sun hit the peaks of the mountain range the fog came rolling in beneath me and together this made for a real nice shot. After the successfull morning shoot I had to decide to drive home (Cimolais) and came back in the evening to shoot the Tre Cime or stay around and head home after the evening shoot. I decided to stay and make the best out of the day. I wandered around. just scouting, taking no pictures at all.

Long before the sun was about to set I approached the Tre Cime. I discovered some the caves around the the location and settled for the best spot to take the photographes of the 2nd Icon on that day. I had interesting company. Right after me the Australian landscape photographer Timothy Poulton climbed up the hill to find a place for him and his tripod-mounted camera. It was actually the first time I had an encounter with a real pro photographer despite being outdoors and photographing for several years now. 

The view was spectacular. It was like watching a movie but even more exciting. The weather around the Tre Cime and the Candini di Misurina to the left and the Torre dei Scarperi to the right was constantly changing. All kinds of clouds and a lot of color in the sky. The Tre Cime themselves were constantly flooded by clouds rushing through their peaks.

It was almost to hard to stop this motion by trying to capture it on a photograph. 

I was happy with what I got and I wright this location of my list. At least for this years visit, as there are so much more compositions and some of them I want to shoot over the next years.
This wasn't quite the case with the cadini. Although I was happy with what I got from this morning I still wanted to have the iconic shot from the Cadini. I made the decision to come back on another day.

That marks the end of my first day in the Dolomites and my second day on the road. Over the last month I've listened to alot of podcast around the landscape photographer community. A lot of them mentioned the "first day funk". It describes a feeling of anxiety, and being overwhelmed and under pressure especially at the beginning of  a trip. Somehow I can relate to this. For me it's almost impossible to start such a long trip without any expectation. Althought it would be clearly better to do so. Only if my first shootings are somewhat productive  I can relax and immerse myself into nature as good as possible. To my advantage I had  this whole day to spend between the morning and evening shoot and that gave me the opportunity to  "arrive".

After spending the night in bed in my fathers hometown of Cimolais I packed for the next adventure. I wanted to revisit Lago Federa as I expected this place to really take advantage of fall color. As earlier this year I wanted to camp overnight in a tent not knowing that this time would have company up there.
With beautiful hikimg weather all day I really enjoyed the hike up to the lake. I arrived about 3 hours before sunset and that gave alot of time to scout the area and find the best spots for sunset and sunrise. At 3 p.m. already the sun vanished behind the mountains and the valley that would normally light up in yellow and orange colors stayed in shadow. That gace me opportunity to concentrate on other stuff like looking for camping spot set up camp and making  a late lunch with my recently aquired mini stove. Right on time for sunet a big group of hikers and photographers arrived. 

And now it's time for a  rant about people not being aware of themselves acting like idiots, not taking care about anything or anyone in their environment and ruining it for everyone including themselves.
This group of wannabe-likes turned up on that silent and peaceful evening and immediately changed the whole athmosphere into a loud and stressfull time that was hard to enjoy. 
Not only did the shout at one another from side of the lake to the other they also directly destroyed the composition for me and for themenselves by stepping into the water and flying their drones directly over it. Needless to say that a human being that is able to think at least a little bit would realize that all the reflections would disappear immediately. Of course all of them had all of the annoying beebs and other tones that todays cameras and drones can make on full volume. I calmed myself down by knowing that these lazy-ass photographers would not be here for sunrise. Luckily as soon as the light was gone they were too.
Actually the thing that annoyed me the most were the drones. Also at the Tre Cime the evening before the drones are just far to loud. Both areas are also known for their birds and other wildlife. How ruthless can somebody be?
I have an ambivalent relationship with drones. On the one hand I like the perspective it can give you as a photographer and I admit that it can be tempting to use it whereever your ability to get a photo with your camera ends. But I also hate them for being noizy and disruptive for any kind of other photographer and wildlife. After these two situations I came to the conslusion that I will not buy a drone in the forseeable future and if so, I would never use it when other photographers are around. When I'm in the field, I want to immerse myself in nature. A drone does the opposite. At least for all the other photographers.

When the light was gone I expected to be alone around the lake but this time the refugio was actually open and a family with its dogs where staying overnight. That meant that I had to relocate my tent to a place more hidden and deeper in the woods. 
I enjoyed the comfort of a late November sunrise. I picket my spot that I found the day before and waited for the sun to some up behind the mountain. I love the moment when the first glimps of the sun appear and the sunstars it creates when using a narrow apperture.
You could see the whole valley around the lake stepping from shadow into the light. 

I got my shots very early and even despite I took  alot of time just watching the landscape and drinking a coffee I was ready for an early departure. The weather was still just glorious and I really enjoyed the hike down and back to my car. I was so hyped that decided to give it another try and see if I can find that spot at the Cadini di Misurina. So instead of heading home I drove directly to the place I had been two days before. The great thing about that region is that all those beautiful places are basically in the same neighbourhood. I took me just 30 minutes to get there. This time and with the appropriate amount of daylight I found the right way to the spot. And let me tell you it was worth it. It wasn't for the conditions (because honestly they could have been much better) but simply for the fact that is was THE icon I wanted to visit since the first time I saw a picture of it (that's 5-6 years ago).
The scene is just spectacular. You rarely feel this small and insignificant and yet so good at the same time. It's when standing infront, ontop or below those mighty giants of stone or when sleeping under a star covered night sky that you become aware that you are only here for a brief visit and they don't care at all who you are and what you've done.

On the next day I revisited the Parco naturale Dolomiti Friulane. I just takes 10 minutes by car to enter this beautiful landscape. As far as I know the parc is only accessible via Cimolais, at least by car. I planned to hike up to the Campanile di val Montanaia early as I wanted to avoid taking the tent and my sleeping pad with me. I was afraid of reching the top of the mountain just to find out that every bed in the bivaco is already been taken which would mean that have to sleep outside. With no tent and only a few degrees above 0° Celsius that would be a very miserable night. But the way that leads to the foot of the Campanile is so beautiful that I stopped every kilometer to take a photo. As I reached the parking space my fear became real. The place was already full of cars. My only hope at this point was that most of the people are just their for daily hike and to climb one of the many rock walls. I started to calm down even more as I met many hikers that were on their way back and down the mountain trail. 
After 3 days of hiking and already 2-3 thousand altimeters my legs started to get tired.
I made it to the top but I also knew that like 6 month before I would not make it to the other side of the ridge behind the Campanile. My goal for this time was to get on that ridge by sunrise to be able to see beyond the surrounding mountains. But I knew that this wasn't going to happen this time. 
My legs quit on me but I was lucky getting literaly the last bed on the bivaco.
There people arriving even later than I did and those who had no tent really had to sleep outside. My adventurous side in me thought how great it might be to sleep under the stars. Spoiler: It turned out that all of them were barely able to sleep, although we've given them all the blankets that were available. 
But before we all went to bed I experienced another evening with great company and likeminded hikers on top of a mountain, under a carpet of stars and around a warm fireplace. 
In May I slept up there with only 5 other people. This time we were more then 25. 
I had beautiful skies at sunset and sunrise and I also managed to shoot the milky way that was visible from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

On my way down on the next morning I came by almost a hundred people. Most them hikers and climbers. It was the start of the week with a national holiday on Tuesday and the weather was still awesome. It was great to see those people of all ages to climb the mountains in their areas and spend time in the outdoors. But the most remarkable thing was that on the whole trail I did not find any sort of trash. These people take care of their environment which seems understandable for me as they are spending much more time in the outdoors and they know what they get out of it. You can go in any park and woodland here in Germany and you will not find a single m² without trash.

Despite all my concerns in the beginning of the trip I enjoyed being outside and photographing again.  I start to take advantage of knowing and revisiting certain areas and I was acompanied by good weather and a healthy body. Nonetheless it will remain an ongoing to meet everyones expectation including the one I have myself.

parco naturale dolomiti friulane
cadini di misurina fall 2022
close up moon
campanile di val montanaia
campanile di val montanaia astro night milkyway
tree speciman roots
fog dolomites
woodland fog dolomites