For a period of several years, I led a group of members of the Midwest Nature Photographers on week-long fall color trips to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I enjoyed the opportunity not only to bring back images from an extremely photogenic area, but also to gather with a group of like-minded photographers. In October 2003, our group started the week in the western part of the U.P., specifically Porcupine Mountains State Park, before moving on to more easterly areas.
The Porcupine Mountains are a small group of isolated mountains that slope down to Lake Superior. Two billion years old and now eroded to large hills, the mountains make up an important part of the state park. The park is a designated wilderness area of 92 square miles, the largest in Michigan, and includes a wealth of scenic beauty. One of the high points of the Porcupines escarpment sits above Lake of the Clouds and the valley of the Carp River, a sheer drop of about 700 feet below the overlook. This vantage point was the pre-sunrise destination of our group's first day in the U.P.
It was now light enough to see our surroundings as we loaded our photographic equipment for the hike to the summit, which features a viewing area and low safety wall built of stone. Several photographers had already set up their equipment beyond the safety wall when I arrived; the best views are found beyond the wall, where the overlook moves down a slope for about thirty feet before the sheer drop to the valley. I carry my 4x5 camera equipment in a large backpack weighing about forty pounds; arriving at the safety wall, I likewise decided to shoot from a vantage point beyond the wall and removed my backpack before climbing over.
I deposited the backpack on its side on the opposite side of the wall and started to climb over. The slope was greater than I thought, and the pack rolled over after setting it down. Then it rolled again. As it rolled a third time, increasing in speed with each roll, I realized that it would shortly roll over the edge and into the valley! In a panic and unable to cross the wall quickly enough, all I could manage was to yell "Get it!" to two photographers working below, at the edge of the cliff. Fortunately they heard what they later described as the sound of an avalanche coming behind them, turned to see my pack rumbling toward the cliff, and quickly grabbed it. Happily, the pack was zipped shut, or lenses and various accessories would have independently rolled out of their compartments and over the brink. Needless to say, I've now learned that it isn't a good idea to set down a backpack so that its long side parallels a cliff edge.
Having had enough excitement for the week, I calmed down enough to notice that the trees in the valley below were illuminated by exquisite soft light. The sun was above the horizon, but its rays hadn't yet reached into the deep valley. Frost coated each tree, creating a pastel kaleidoscope throughout the valley. I composed an image of the Carp River flowing through the delicately-colored trees, isolating the section of valley that I chose by using a long lens, and captured my image before direct sun melted the frost a few minutes later.