Thick Fog and the Night Sky

2008-11-30 06:18:18.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

Summit Stars: Sirius, Orion, and Taurus

Today has been a nice change of pace from what has been normal as of late. It began with a short hike this afternoon, around 3:00. I had awoken early and spent some time reading and playing my harmonica when I thought it would be good to get out for a bit. It was quite foggy and a bit windy, averaging 50 mph, so I decided to hike down the autoroad a bit to the Great Gulf. It was difficult even keeping track of the road due to the thick fog limiting my visibility to only about 30 feet. When the sky and ground appear the same, optical tricks are easy to come by. For instance, at one point it appeared as though I was standing near a 7 foot high wall of snow (which makes no logical sense at this time of year), but taking two steps closer, found it to be a rime covered post and only a foot of snow depth. I decided to hike back home not on the road, and walked the flats to the west of Ball Crag. I wandered, inspecting different rocks and patches of textured snow, and eventually figured I should get headed back more directly as the grey fog was getting darker. I faced what I though was West, which would head me back towards the road, then took out my compass. On the contrary, I discovered I was facing South. It’s amazing what a little curiosity, virtually zero visibility, and driving winds will do to get you turned around. Sometimes you must admit humble defeat and that is what I did, following the compass instead of my instinct – I reached the road.

A little before 8 PM, the fog cleared and visibility jumped from 30 feet to 100 miles. The rest of the night was spent in this welcomed clear condition, with the winds steadily falling. It has been a while since I’ve had a good stargazing night here on the summit. Mostly, we’ve been in the fog for weeks, and when we haven’t, the moon has been too bright. I’ve always been fond of the night sky, but I have grown to feel a certain intimacy with it having worked nights the past 7 months. To watch the Big Dipper make its giant swoop to fill its ladle, always pointing towards the North Star. To see Orion on the hunt chasing Taurus, with Sirius the Dog close on his heals. Leo the Lion doesn’t rise until the Big Dipper has swooped so far, its water is nearly falling out. For some reason, Leo seems friendly and laid back, not terribly concerned with the other constellations. There’s Draco the Snake wiggling around the dippers and Hercules trying to crush him. And then there is the unexpected excitement of seeing a shooting star. Last night I had the good fortune to see five of them. There are planes and satellites; touches of human existence in an otherwise untouched world – kind of like cairns and the buildings up here. And then with the sudden onset of fog rolling over the mountain top, the wonder of the night sky disappears, like the fading tail of a shooting star.

Note: The picture above was taken by Mike Theiss last winter. Check out his website for more incredible photographs.


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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