Bike and Hike

Yesterday, my friend and I biked Cades Cove loop to the Gregory Bald trailhead, hiked to Gregory Bald to see the flame azaleas, then finished biking the loop. It was 25 miles total with 4452 feet of climbing (14.5 miles and 1500 feet of climbing on the bike and 11.3 miles and 3482 feet of climbing during the hike).

We had great weather. Biking the loop is the way to go. Before 10am on Saturday, the loop is closed to cars. The wild life seemed more relaxed in the morning too. We saw horses close to the road, biked right past a dear standing on the side of the road, and watched a black bear eating termites from an old log just off the road.

Gregory Bald was beautiful. Warm sun, airish breeze. The flame azaleas were very pretty. There were colors ranging from white to yellow, orange, and red. We had lunch and took a nap. A couple had ridden horses to the peak. The humidity was low so the views were great. I walked around taking photos of Cades Cove and other peaks with the azaleas in the foreground. Though it wasn’t picked up in my pictures, I could see a distant ridge on the horizon (possibly Stout Knob, 66 miles away).

Riding a mountain bike was much more fun than my road bike. My road bike is stiff and twitchy, but the mountain bike was smooth and stable. On the bike back we saw more deer and bears. We rode on the shoulder and passed all the cars stuck in traffic. I only took photos on film, though I brought both cameras.


Old Gray Cemetery

This is the Old Gray Cemetery in North Knoxville. The first photo is a little over exposed. I set the ASA knob to 100 while using 200 ISO film. I wanted to see if this would give better colors. Someone at the local camera store said this would result in a “deeper” negative. I took this to mean richer colors, but I now think it means the blacks are not as crushed. However, I do not mind missing out on details in the shadows. I think the higher contrast gives photos a comic book feel where the colors are saturated and the blacks are true black. I think I will stick with the recommended ISO for now. The colors I’ve gotten are so beautiful. Either way the cemetery’s many sculptures and tombstones are pretty in the sunlight. The second photo was taken with my new 75-150mm f/3.5 Nikon E series telephoto lens. The angel in the center of the image is a little out of focus and I do not think there are enough foreground elements to really get a good depth of field. Much of the image does look pretty sharp though.


One of the reasons I was excited to get the Nikon FM and 50mm f1.4 lens was to see how the bokeh compared to my NEX-3N with its 16-50mm f/3.5-f/5.6 zoom lens. Here is a shot with a neutral density filter and polarization filter so that I can use the f1.4 aperture. This image doesn’t work for a few reasons. First, the in-focus subjects are too close in color, shape, brightness, and location to the just out of focus elements behind them. Second, the background has many of the same colors as the subject. Third, the film I used, Kodak Gold 200, has a larger grain, so the subjects are not perfectly sharp. A finer grain film would make the background even smoother than it already is. To further improve the image I could also use a tripod to steady the camera and remove any concern over camera shake.


Things just grow here. We are always fighting back the plants that encroach on the driveway and yard. We’ve had a bit of a sunny, dry spell that has been great for climbing and hiking, and for the plants as long as we water them. Many of the plants that grow are from our compost. Every year orange and red cherry tomatoes sprout up. Last year we were given strawberry plants. They survived outside all winter. Now, every few days we pick as many sweet, flavorful strawberries as we can eat. Beans have started growing up the trellis. We also have garlic, wild flowers, and morning glories that have yet to bloom.

Clingmans Dome

Tonight I drove to Clingmans Dome to see the sunset and try to see the Milky Way. This was a new moon, and I expected the sky to be clear. This area is also has the darkest skies in the region. Unfortunately there was quite a lot of haze, so the sunset was not as pretty as I’d hoped. Two days ago I saw the most beautiful sunset while driving home from the Rocky Top hike. There was also a lot of light pollution, but I did see more stars than I had in a while!

Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet, is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the highest elevation along the Appalachian Trail. I drove to the top because I do not like hiking alone in the dark and was short on time. However, there is a 0.6 mile, 350 foot hike from the parking lot to the tower. At elevation I was out of breath just trying to jog.

I captured the mountains in blue hour. It was a very still, quite night, so longer exposures turned out well

Rocky Top

Rocky Top you'll always be / Home sweet home to me.” I’ve gone to the University of Tennessee and lived near Rocky Top for a decade and hadn’t hiked it! So, today I hiked 12.3 miles and 4087 feet of climbing to see beautiful views of the southwestern Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove, and Fontana Lake. The weather was clear with blue skies and fluffy clouds. “There ain't no smog, no smoke on Rocky Top / Ain't no telephone bills”. The trail wasn’t the best. It is also a horse trail, very wide, like a gravel road. No overlooks. A few rhodadendron have bloomed. The peak was much better than the trail and worth the hike. I took a nap at Spence Field overlooking the blooming azailias, mountain laural, and Fontana Lake. On the hike back I saw a black bear with her two, cute cubs 100 yards ahead of me on the trail. They crossed and I waited as they walked deep into the woods.

I can’t get over how beautiful the film photos look. I wanted to compare the color, look, and feel of film and digital, so i took photos of the same scene with the NEX-3N and the FM at Spence Field with azaleas in the foreground. Left is the NEX-3N and right is the FM, both have a polarizing filter. The colors on the NEX-3N are more punchy possible due to the film being overexposed. The mountains and sky are also much more blue on the NEX-3N, but I think the mountains look more life-like on the FM; they look flat on the NEX-3N.

The photo of the cairn was taken on the NEX-3N and the photo of the fern was taken with the FM. While they are different subjects the contrast on the cairn is similar to the fern, but it lacks the same feeling of depth and dimensionality. I used f/1.4 to take the image of the fern. Here there is greater contrast between the background and the fern. The flowers are not quite in focus and they are overexposed, but the fern still looks pretty and three dimensional. Finally, I used Kodak Gold 200 (fern) and Fujicolor 200 (other photos) to compare colors. I think I like the Kodak better. The green in the Fujicolor looks a little yellow.

I was inspired by this photo by u/embroideress, (Lands End on Portra 400, Mamiya C220, 80mm lens). She used the shallow depth of field of the medium format camera to isolate a spot on the path and in the forest near the camera. I tried to replicate it with the grassy field. I tried to focus on the fern as it is the only immediately obvious subject, but I was off slightly. It is still a pretty photo with only a thin strip of grass in focus. It also has the same look that I saw when I was there, very soft, green grass. Part of this is due to the polarization filter that cut out the glare of sunlight off each blade of grass.

Unfortunately, the shutter release and film advance lever on the FM stopped working at Rocky Top. Hiking and jostling it around might have shaken some small part. I’m looking to get it fixed because I love the photos it takes!


This weekend I hung out at Ijams, both at the quarry and crag. It has been a very warm week. My friends and I had a day out on the water paddle boarding and canoeing. We then had lunch in the shade. I also climbed at the crag. My friend and I tried leading Suttree (5.10b). We also climbed Madelade (5.10a), a classic, and struggled up Scruffy City Blues (5.11b). These photos have an odd yellow tinge to them. I don’t know why. I cant’t wait to take photos while hiking in the mountains.