Catching the Sunrise

Yesterday, I decided that I’d climb Pen y Fan to take some photos as the sun was rising, The weather forecast was good, I was in the right mood.

The Plan:

Get up at 5am, make a snack breakfast, walk Rufus (as he would be house sitting), set off at around 5.45 top get to the car park for 6.45. This would give me a good hour to get to the ridge where I would be able to set up and wait for the first golden rays of sunlight to hit the southern faces of Pen y Fan and Corn Du. Then, a quick stroll to the summit of Pen y Fan itself before heading back to the car and the journey home. I expected to be back starting 2nd breakfast by 10.30am.

The Reality:

I woke up at 4am and dozed fitfully until 4.45 when I finally gave up and got up. There was much huffing and puffing from Rufus, who had clearly found the most comfortable, warm and cosy spot ever just before I disturbed him. Breakfast was thrown together (scones, of course) and Rufus had some gourmet concoction which included chicken. Then we went out for a short walk around the block, sharing the pavement with two foxes who didn’t seem too worried by our presence. I often take Rufus out before work and I love the bits of our walk where there are no streetlights, as the stars seem to shine much more brightly. Orion was just sinking in the west as we walked. Rufus decided to check every blade of grass for evidence of other dogs so by the time we got back to the house, it was 5.50am. I could already see the plan starting to go wrong.

I managed to set of just after 6am and the streets were clear of traffic as I drove through Swansea and off to the north. Of course, once I left the dual carriageway I hit traffic in the form of a slow lorry. The temperature was below freezing and the road narrow so I couldn’t overtake. I managed to get to the car park at about 7am.

It wasn’t quite dark, so I didn’t need a torch. I set off up the path and with my goal of beating the sunrise, I set a good pace for the first 10 minutes. I hadn’t done any preparation for this walk and the last time I climbed Pen y Fan was in August and I quickly realised the pace I set wasn’t the right pace. A short stop, a rethink and a couple of photos later, I was on my way at a much more realistic speed. As the light levels increased, the view to Fan Fawr and the west was beautiful, with a gorgeous pre-dawn light bathing the hills. But ahead, I could just make out mist covering Corn Du. As I got further up the hill, the mist came further down to meet me. With 10 minutes to go before the sunrise, I entered the clouds. By the time I got the the ridge where I had planned to see the first golden rays of sunlight, all I could see was 10m of the path either side of me. But I had made it there with 5 minutes to spare.

I decided that to have any chance of seeing any golden rays, I’d need to be on Pen y Fan itself so without waiting, I set off. As I walked along the side of Corn Du I noticed the path ahead of me light up as if someone had switched on a street light. The ground here is red sandstone so even though I couldn’t see the actual sunrise, the red dawn light was making the path shine. I looked over to my right and there was a large patch of orange red mist. No sun, though.

On Pen y Fan, I had the summit to myself. There was a thick white frost on everything, making the stone path very slippery. After a couple of  photos, I went to take a drink. As I took my back pack off, the wind picked up until within a minute it was blowing hard enough that I had to brace myself to stop being blown over. The wind was sharp and icy and I decided not to hang around on the top of the clouds to clear. I caught a glimpse of blue sky as the clouds sped over  the summit but I was already heading back down again.

I quickly dropped down below the clouds and the wind dropped again so that it became pleasant walking. By now, the light on the hills opposite was exactly as I’d hoped I would see on the summit and I stopped frequently to take photos. I stopped to chat with a guy climbing up to work on the paths and he asked me about the conditions on the summit. He said he wasn’t going there himself but he wanted to advise people who were going up as more often than not they were unprepared for the reality of a mountain in winter. I chatted to another guy who was planning on picking up rubbish on the way down. Then I reached the relative warmth car park and a few minutes later, I was heading home.

I managed to get the cooked breakfast going by 10.15 and I was sat down eating it by 10.45.

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Cold and Clear

Driving home last night, I was conscious that I was following Jupiter and Orion for most of the journey. The sky was clear and the temperature was close to freezing. I decided to have another go at getting some images of the Andromeda galaxy.

I was using my 150-500mm lens and it’s notably heavier than the set up from last time. This came over in the blips as the telescope mount motors tried to smooth out the tracking motion. I must have spent over an hour taking photos ands this time I set up a second camera to take a long exposure of stars circling the pole star.As a result of the blips only a few frames were usable.

I’m really pleased with the image of Andromeda. In the picture on here, you can make out two almost parallel dark dust lanes in the bottom part of the galaxy. The slightly fuzzy ‘star’ at about 11 o’clock is the companion galaxy M110 (proper stars in this image have a more defined edge). Further away at about 7 o’clock is M32.

I think this is the limit of clarity I can get from the back garden as there is a significant amount of light pollution evident in the final images – hence the conversion to black and white. The next move will be to find a dark sky site and start again.

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Starry Starry Night

By fortune, I popped my head out of the door last night to see clear sky. It only lasted a short while as fast moving clouds scudded past. The moon was up and very bright. But despite all this, I managed to get a few photos of the stars that I was pleased with.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get long exposure photos of the stars without getting trails. I have a motorised telescope mount but attaching the camera to the telescope makes the combination too heavy for the motors to track properly. In work yesterday, I was thinking about the problem whilst working hard and remembered an old tripod mounting plate I had. So when I got home, I dug it out, fitted it to the camera and then attached it to the telescope mount. Then fortune smiled and the skies cleared.

I used an old 180mm manual focus lens I’ve had for a while. It’s a lovely lens, but very heavy. I focused on the moon before moving to my chosen targets. The sky was quite bright with light pollution and the original images are a light pink in colour., I’ve converted them to black and white and adjusted the levels to boost the contrast and bring the blacks back.

Success! Of the 15 images, 11 worked well. I’ve added three in the slide show below.

I’ve been particularly keen to capture the Andromeda Galaxy. I’m really pleased with the result below, mainly because I have proved the camera mount works and I know I can improve on the picture. It’s great to have captured the smaller galaxy M32 as well (it’s more prominent in the original uncompressed image).

(Andromeda is 2.3 million light years away from us. The Pleiades are 400 light years distant and the nebula in Orion is 1,500 light years away.)

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