For the last 3 years, I’ve made an annual tradition of taking advantage of living on the east coast of the U.S. to take photo of the changing foliage during this time of year. This year, I visited the legendary Adirondack Mountains. I managed to rope in a few friends to join me: Chris Rivera, Matt Sherlock, and Jesse Gardner.
Here’s our tale.
We’d been watching the fall foliage prediction map for weeks, and it seemed our trip was perfectly timed for peak color.
Late afternoon, Chris’ wife dropped him off at my house and we went to pick up Matt. The three of us had shot photos together before, but it had been a while since we’d seen each other, so we spent most of the initial time of the car ride catching up on what was new in our lives. Jesse lived a lot closer, so he headed to our Lake Placid Airbnb to settle in.
After a Jersey Mike’s dinner (not a sponsor) and 2 stops to charge my Tesla, we finally arrived at the Airbnb a little after midnight to crash. We chose our bedrooms and agreed to do a sunrise shoot in the morning. I unpacked my clothes and gear, finally getting to sleep around 2:00am.
I woke up at our agreed time of 5:30am to catch sunrise. The forecast called for rain all day, so we were hoping that would mean a foggy scene at Mirror Lake. Unfortunately, it was already pouring pretty hard by the time we got there. Defeated, we retreated to the Downtown Diner for breakfast to fuel up and regroup.
Pancakes, waffles, eggs, and coffee gave us the courage to decide that we were going to shoot in the rain. I scoured my phone for inspiration for fall photos that looked good in the rain, most of which were forest-y shots. Our sunset plan that night was walk around the shore of Heart Lake then hike to the top of Mount Jo, but we decided to go earlier and scout out around since sunset didn’t seem promising because of a full day of rain. On the way there, we stopped at a few pull-offs to shoot some incredible scenery, including the Olympic Jumping Complex.
We mosied over to Heart Lake to shoot the shoreline in the rain. I got the foggy lake shots I wanted, but we were completely drenched.
We started to hike to the top of Mount Jo, but before even starting the ascent, we ran into some hikers coming down who warned that it was too slippery to hike and too foggy at the top to even see anything.
Deterred and sopping wet, we decided to call it a day for shooting and instead spend the rest of the day editing. We went back to our Airbnb to change into dry clothes.
We exchanged a few editing techniques with each other and worked up an appetite. We were in the mood for some comfort food, so we went to The Pickled Pig and I had the Crack Burger: two fully-cooked, juicy 4oz “smashed burgers” ground from local Donahue Farms chuck, short-rib and brisket, finished with black garlic mayonnaise, fries, shredded green leaf lettuce, caramelized red onion confit, melted American cheese and finished with piggy sauce. Oink, and yum! This was the heaviest meal I had eaten in a long time, and I was here for it.
We edited some more, choosing and sharing our favorite shots of the day. We talked about religion, faith, and identity. We made a quick plan for the next day. Instead of sunset at the summit of Mount Jo that night, maybe we could do sunrise the next morning. It was settled.
Feeling full and tired, we put the new season of Loki on the TV. The show was great but I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
I went to bed at 7pm.
We were out the out the door at and the base of Mount Jo to hike to the summit for sunrise at 6am. I brought all my camera gear—4 lenses and a tripod—and my drone bag. The temperature had dropped into the 40s overnight, and I was bundled up with a base layer, t-shirt, zip-up hoodie, and insulated jacket.
Armed with our headlamps in the pitch black, we started our trek. The Adirondacks has the highest concentration of black bears in the state, so we yelled “Yo bear!” every few minutes to be loud enough to make bears not bother with us.
Mount Jo has two trails to the summit: a long one and a short one. The short trail is only 0.8 miles, but the elevation gain is about 700 feet. I generally run about 4–5 miles each when playing basketball, so I thought this hike would be a piece of cake.
Boy, was I wrong.
Between darkness and steep boulder climbs, I was struggling pretty quickly. My 3 companions seemed to be doing just fine, but I needed to stop every few dozen feet to shed a layer. My heart rate was up to around 170bpm. I generally run warm, and I quickly realized how overbundled I was. By the time we got to the summit, I breathing pretty hard and dripping sweat into my face pretty profusely. The summit was cold and windy, which made me want to put all my layers back on again. I was very uncomfortable.
The view from the top was gorgeous. I could see a little piece of sun peeking out from behind the mountains. I took out my camera and tripod to set up and shoot. I picked my spot and spun the dial on my camera to adjust my shutter speed.
Hmm, no biggie. I could use the touchscreen menu.
Touchscreen wasn’t working. Menu button wasn’t working either. My camera must have gotten too wet shooting in the rain the day before. Most of the buttons were non-responsive.
All good; I'll fly my drone.
I reached into my pocket to grab my phone, as it’s the remote control for my DJI Air 2S drone.
My phone wasn’t in my pocket.
I checked all the other pockets and in my bag. Not there. Did I drop it along the way? It was very possible that lunging over the boulders on the way to the summit may have pushed my phone out of my pocket in the dark. Or was it still in the car and I never grabbed it? Man, I hope I left it in the car. My phone is also my Tesla key; without it, we weren’t gonna be able to go anywhere. I could use my key card that I kept in my wallet, but my wallet was in the car.
The sun was coming up now and I had nothing to shoot with. I grabbed my GoPro out of my bag, and took a few quick videos of nothing in particular. I snapped some half-hearted photos with my camera, making due with being stuck in a 2-second timer with no autofocus.
I took a sip of water and ate a granola bar. It made me feel a little bit better, though I was still bitter than I wasn’t shooting as much as everyone else. Suddenly, a storm started to roll in, so everyone decided to pack up and head back down the mountain.
The descent was much easier than the ascent. Plus the sun was up now, and the forest looked beautiful.
We decided to walk the shoreline of Heart Lake again to see if we got any different shots than we got in the rain the previous day. I took a few of the same shots I took the day before, which gave me a lot more vivid color.
Walking the shoreline again, the light rain was starting to lighten up even more. I noticed a rainbow forming across the other side of the lake and called to the others to check it out.
Suddenly, it became very vivid, and we could see it go all the way across.
This was one of the most special scenes I had ever witnessed. Giddy from excitement, I remarked that if this was all I got to shoot from this trip, I’d be good. Of course, I wanted to shoot more, but I could be content with this.
After the rainbow disappeared, we decided to pack up and head to our next location. I normally eat an early breakfast, but I hadn’t eaten much this morning except for a granola bar, and I was starting to feel a bit of a headache. I thought it might be the lack of caffeine, so I got a bottle of Pepsi from the gift shop.
I got to my car with my fingers crossed that my phone was in it.
Success! I had left my phone in the charging tray. What a relief!
Our crew agreed that breakfast should be our next stop before our next shooting location, so we tracked down a local breakfast spot. My headache was much worse now and I was starting to feel nauseous, so I started munching on trail mix. Jesse and Matt were driving separately from Chris and me; they found a parking spot first and headed into the restaurant. They called me while I was parking: 1-hour wait for breakfast. Ugh. I was really nauseous now. I decided I wanted to go back to the Airbnb to lie down. Chris decided to join Jesse and Matt while I went back. I tried to eat enough to take some Advil. I popped 2 pills, and less than a minute later, I ran to the bathroom to throw up. Hello again, Crack Burger from yesterday!
I texted the guys to carry on without me and I’d catch up with them later, then I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up a few hours later with the same headache, but at least the nausea was gone. I stumbled downstairs to find enough to eat to take more Advil, but all I could manage to eat was more trail mix. I opened my computer to edit more photos to distract myself.
The guys came back from shooting an amazing High Falls Gorge about 15 minutes later. Jesse offered to make me some eggs, which I gladly accepted. I ate a few bites and started feeling nauseous again. I took some Advil and went back to bed. Before I dozed off, I came to terms with the idea that I might not feel good enough to shoot on this trip again, and the shots I have are where I’ll stop.
I woke up after an hour, feeling better. I showered, which made me feel even better. I realized I was probably dehydrated after sweating so much in the morning, and I didn’t even think to drink much water, so I chugged some right there. More feeling better. I wandered downstairs to find the guys editing, so I joined them.
We decided to go out for a low-key dinner at a local pizza place where I scarfed down some fettucine alfredo and a salad. Chris skipped dinner to shoot some nightime architecture of the Olympic Conference Center while Jesse, Matt, and I debated the merits of mentorship groups and codes of conduct.
After dinner, we made a game plan for our last day of the trip.
We decided we’d check out of the Airbnb before heading out for a sunrise shoot and that we’d all go home directly after shooting the locations of the day.
Our sunrise spot was Cascade Lake, and, unlike the past few days, the sky was dry and clear. Chris and I flew our drones around the lake and the nearby rock face sporting a waterfall. It was a great start!
Also, my camera seemed like it was back to normal. All buttons and dials were working properly again. I guess it just needed time to dry out!
Learning my lesson from the previous day, I insisted on an early breakfast, which everyone was in favor of. We stopped at the Noon Mark Diner to break our fast.
The next stop was the powerful Roaring Brook Falls.
Our final destination for the day and for the trip was the gorgeous Chapel Pond.
This is where Chris, Matt, and I parted ways with Jesse. We had one last location we wanted to stop at, but the map said we’d get home later than we all would have liked, so we opted to skip it and go straight home. The car ride back was full of conversations about business ideas, family dynamics, mental health, and more.
I hope you enjoyed the tour and the tale of 2023 fall foliage in the Adirondacks. If you’d like to go on a trip like this, join me next year! I have my eye on the Catskills, Colorado, or maybe somewhere in Canada. Lemme know your preferences, and let’s starting planning it!
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