Episode 3: Path of Totality
The imporatnt details:
Location: Elkhorn Crest Trail, Oregon. More specifically, eastern Oregon, around 12 miles west of Baker City.
Why am I here? - Do some epic riding under the total solar eclipse. Also apparently there are cool and wise mountain goats.
Highlights: The total solar eclipse (duh..)
Lowlights: The friggin' climb on loose gravel road. Nearly missed the eclipse beacuse of this darn climb.
This is obviously a very unique ride and one that required a fair amount of planning. I knew I wanted to do a memorable ride for the eclipse. So I checked the path of totality and see if it intersected epic riding trails. As you can imagine there are numerous options but from my limited knowledge of trails I knew it would be somewhere out west - Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. I had further specifications that needed to be met - good weather, and trail orientation and landscape that would offer optimal and unimpeded view of the solar eclipse. Ah and also I wanted to avoid the crowds . After weeks of searching I've finally found the perfect trail - the Elkhorn Crest Trail. At above 8,000ft much of the trail is above the tree line (once you've survive the killer climb), and upon checking simulation of the eclipse and the numbers (time, sun azimuth and inclination) the trail orientation is perfectly suited for this mission. The trail was also long enough, 38.1 miles for a loop (or do an out and back for less) to ensure dispersion of any crowd and multiple options to chose your own private spot for the viewing.
Having chosen the trail, the next task was to figure out the timing and viewing location. First contact is expected at 9.09am with the total eclipse starting at 10.24am and lasting just under 2 minutes. I would need at least 30 mins before the total eclipse to set up the cameras, drone and basically be creative with the shots. This is all hard to plan for unless you are physically at the location itself. But I did my best to study from topo maps and Google Earth to figure out, given the time constraint, where the best spots would be. I narrowed down 3 possible locations, depending on my progress or as it turned out lack of progress up the trail.
The race against time
The day didn't start of as intended. I had planned to start off at 7am and 'leisurely' climb 4000ft. The day before I was having way too much fun shredding trails at Hood River (4 hours away) with my friend Pete, which meant I started an hour later at 8am. Turned out it wasn't a bad turn of event as the climb up is a beasty, steep and loose gravel track. So I cheated and drove my rental car as far up as possible to cut the climbing. The gravel track is rough and a 4x4 is definitely needed. After scrapping as much of the underbody of the car as I dared to without incurring some kind of fine from the rental company, I parked the car. Mounted my trusted steed and pursued the remaining 2000ft of climbing. Scores of locals on their ATVs whizzed passed me as I crawled painfully upwards. After much huffing and puffing and cursing the darn climb, I reached the trail head at 9.34am. Predicatbly the trail head was already filled with eclipse viewers. I started to panic as I was already short on time and worried about not being able to get far enough from the crowd. I gunned up the trail (still climbing) towards the closest of the 3 viewing points I have chosen (about 4.8 miles from the trail head), and thankfully the crowd and hikers thinned out rapidly after a few miles. I short hike up to a mini peak and I made it to my reserved seating by 10.07 am. 14 minutes to go.
Getting the shots
I was rather displeased with myself at this point as I was critically running out of time to set things up, let alone trying to be creative, so admittedly I am rather disappointed with the results. I was hoping that the drone would be able to capture the eclipse but I knew this was a slim chance. The sun would be at about 45 degrees in the sky and the drone camera simply lack the vertical coverage to capture that. Having confirmed that suspicion, I used the drone to capture panaromic views as the light morphed under the eclipse. The GoPro would be pointing up at the sun and my iPhone with special lense would be set up on a tripod. But that didn't happen due to lack of time, so I ended up piloting the drone, holding up the iPhone and GoPro, and also trying to witness the event with my raw eyes - all at the same time. Somehow I managed to pull off this multi-tasking effort, well sorta - quality of the shots were definitely compromised but I had some usable material for the edit.
Surreal is not even close to describe the event. The intrinsic quality of the light, it's color, texture was completely transformed as the moon passed over. The totality itself seemed to last for eternity, it felt like time was paused briefly. The air changed, stars and planets started to appear in the morning sky. The horizon had a susnet appearance though no sun could be seen on the horizon. Coyotoes started howling out of nowhere. And as the sun reappeared everything around me felt they had undergone genesis, a rebirth of some sort.
Other Bonus Attractions
So about those mountain goats. Well I didn't see any. These creatures are commonly reported along the trail, but not today. Perhaps they were put off by the eclipse tourists that have invaded their home turf, perhaps they had their own eclipse party and rituals to attend to. Who knows? Point is they weren't around. Nevertheless the trail offers plenty of other gems along the way. The trail is highly exposed and loose with scree debris which made for some nervous moments but it offered ridgline views which are spectacular. Then there is the descend to the Twin Lakes - another popular spot for campers and hikers to view the eclipse, but most had packed up and gone by the time I got there. So that left me to enjoy a serence lunch snack by the lower and larger of the two lakes. I took a dip (ok half dip) into the lake and it was surprisingly warm. I'd imagine it would be a good spot for some fly fishing. I didn't have a rod with me and in any case I have never fished in my life, so I guess this is a mute point.
From the Twin Lakes you could continue the fun descend to complete the loop, but for me that would mean eventually climbing back up the 2000ft that I cheated in the morning. I didn't fancy any of that, not even a single feet of it. So I climbed back out of the Twin Lakes, rejoined the Elkhorn Crest Trail to complete the out and back. Voila - not a bad way to see the eclipse huh?