CHASING THE MILKY WAY IN THE DOLOMITES
PART 1 (My first attempt)
Do you know that 80% of humans can’t see the stars anymore? Light pollution is a sad phenomenon of our present-day civilization. In Europe one has to search the mountains for clear skies, while in the United States there is still some dark places where the night sky is more visible. Allow me to show you the real night sky, and hopefully, it will inspire you to go out at night to chase the Milky Way!
At the end of May I was incredibly lucky to have two long weekends free. Fortunately, they came at the time of the new moon and the weather forecast promised decent weather. So, there was no question how I would spend my free time – pursuing my greatest passion – chasing the Milky Way! Because each weekend was four days I had enough time to combine the Milky Way with my favorite place in the world – the Dolomites! Reinhold Messner has said the Dolomites are the most beautiful mountains in the world, and he has seen them all.
The first weekend I was with my boyfriend and we wanted to spend it at the Dolomites’ most well-known place, the Tre Cime de Lavaredo. This is usually a very crowded place, but this weekend the road was still closed and all passes were covered in snow, so we got the chance to be there all by ourselves. To reach our destination was difficult as well as a little dangerous. There was loose snow everywhere on steep slopes, and as usual, we were carrying heavy backpacks, It took us several hours and a lot of sweat and adrenaline, but we finally arrived.
The Tre Cime de Lavaredo and I seem to have some kind of love-hate relationship. I’ve been there four times and I have never seen them, because when I am there, they always hidden in the fog!
One of the reasons why I planned to spend three days there was to make sure that I finally saw them! But as we arrived there were once again lots of clouds.
At this time of year the Rifugio Locatelli is still closed. But there is an unheated winter room we could use, so we decided not to bring our tent so we would be more sheltered from the ice cold winds.
Once we arrived I waited eagerly for the sunset. As always, all I saw were clouds! We spent a cozy evening in the shelter. We always bring a little stove and trekking food with us. You just have to add hot water and it’s really tasty!
That night, even though it was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, and it was ice cold outside, the stars were there, so I had to get up. I set up the tripod and needless to say, when it was time to get the shot, the clouds were back! I went back to sleep for three hours before the sunrise. When the alarm clock rang again, I jumped out of bed with my camera ready….but unfortunately, there was fog and clouds on the peaks. Impossible!!
Luckily, on the other side of the shelter were these beautiful lakes, so I was able to get a great sunrise shot, with my boyfriend as model!
We spent a lazy afternoon, because Milky Way chasers need to sleep a little, too! Later on, we climbed a little in the nearby mountains. By sunset, once again there were too many clouds for a shot. We cannot seem to catch a break and get a glimpse of those damn peaks! Then suddenly, just at the last minute of the blue hour, the clouds passed and I was able to take my first photo ever of the Tre Cime! Finally!!!
The alarm rang again at midnight. It was freezing but there was a clear sky! Stars were sparkling like thousands of diamonds in the sky! I was left speechless and just stood there staring, even though it was time to take my camera out. My plan was to take a panorama shot of the Milky Way. But to do this I had to be finished in less than one hour before the moon returned at 1 AM.
FINALLY… A 50 IMAGE MILKY WAY PANORAMA!
Below is final image. The panorama is made of 50 photos taken vertically with an 18mm lens. The house and the church were lit with a headlamp. It took me one and a half hours to get it right and I was so frozen that I had problems getting the camera off the tripod when I was finished. But it was absolutely worth it!
After such a long night it was very difficult to get out of bed for the sunrise. Even my boyfriend refused to get out of his sleeping bag. I was so damn tired, but since there were no clouds, I just had to get up. As you can tell, I am a very determined person. I was so tired it was even difficult to shoot this selfie with the 10 second self timer. It took me several tries and some bruises, as I had slipped on the rocks. But like you, I’ll do anything for a great shot!
PART 2 (My second attempt – I go it alone)
Three adventuresome days (and nights) all alone in the mountains.
This weekend I went all alone, as my boyfriend had to work and my photo buddy had to look after his girlfriend’s cat. I like being alone, but four days is quite a long time. Knowing I would get stunning Milky Way shots, I just couldn’t stay home!
The first evening I arrived very late, as there were a lot of traffic jams on the way. I chose a place that I had already visited in the daylight, the Strudelkopf. It was a two hour hike to get there, but thankfully, it was not a very difficult one. There were great views all around and the Tre Cime was visible as well. My backpack was very heavy and even though I rushed up the mountain, I couldn’t manage to be there for the sunset. So I set up my tent and then I shot the foreground. By this time it was already at the end of the blue hour and there wouldn’t be any moon visible tonight.
I left my tripod and tried to get two hours of sleep. When the alarm clock rang, I was still very tired and cold, but when I opened the tent door and saw the amazing view, I jumped right up!
First there were some clouds at the galactic center, but later I managed to get this multi-image panorama. I am really happy with the result! Can you find the Tre Cime?
I had some time left and this time I had a remote control for my camera, so I was able to take my first selfie with the Milky Way!
I had to leave at sunrise because camping is really not allowed where I was, plus I had a lot of time left before the evening. On the way to my next spot, I saw a lot of pink cars, one even had a wolf figure on top, the mascot of the Giro d’Italia. This is the world’s biggest bike race after the Tour de France. So I took the opportunity to watch the start of the last mountain stage in Innichen and got some shots of the most famous riders.
Then I chose a place for the night, one I had never been to, the Lago del Baste. It is a little mountain lake surrounded by great rocks and I hoped to get a reflection of the Milky Way. My app said it was about a one hour hike, so I decided to take everything I might need. You should never underestimate the mountains! There was a north face to cross that still had a lot of snow left. It often came up to my hips and I fell down several times! It took me almost three hours to get there. On the way I met two Turkish photographers who had only their cameras, no warm clothes and no mountain shoes. I helped them out of the snowfield and told them about a longer, but easier, way back. I arrived at the lake with my last little bit of energy and the last bit of light. And then, what a disappointment, there was no lake left!
In Europe you can really see the effects of climate change. We haven’t had much rain since last September and many lakes have dried up. By now I was too tired to go back and search for somewhere else, so I just set up my tent and fell into my sleeping bag. I really had a hard time getting out of it at night, I was so tired. But the sky was clear, and since there would not be many nights with a new moon and clear skies, I just couldn’t waste the opportunity. But with the lake gone I really had to look for a new composition, so I grabbed my camera and tripod and tried to climb up the mountain on the right, to try and get a good panorama. I didn’t manage to get to the top. It was much steeper than it looked and everything around me was covered in ice. The night was getting colder and it was very slippery, so I took my panorama just where I stood. Can you find my tent in the photo?
Then the real problems began. How was I to get down on hard frozen snowfields and ice covered rocks? My hiking sticks and crampons were at the tent, so I used my tripod as a hiking stick. I tried not to fall, but I did slip several times, just trying to hold my camera up so I wouldn’t damage it. What a nightmare! Honestly, I did get a little afraid, I asked myself, what will I do if I get injured? Then I had problems finding my tent. I had lights on inside the tent, but it was behind a little hill. I was so happy to finally find it and so glad that I arrived safely with just some bruises. In the morning it was so hard to get up. I was in pain everywhere and I knew the trip back to my car would be difficult. I must have looked pretty bad because when I arrived back to my car the people who parked next to me seemed concerned and asked me if I was ok.
By now I had had enough adventure and wanted an easy location to set up for the last night, so I chose the Wuhner Weiher, which is a mirror for the famous garden of roses, a rock formation. It was once the most beautiful garden on earth. It belonged to the king of dwarves, Laurin. Because he stole the princess he fell in love with, the giants cast a spell turning his rose garden into rocks during the night and day. However, they forgot about twilight, so it still looks like red roses in the twilight time. It was an easy hike of 40 minutes and I had the chance to see the roses at twilight!
This seemed to be a great start for a stunning night, but I could just get this single shot, when the Milky Way came out for a bit. Unfortunately, the clouds came back soon after!
So I hope you enjoyed my two weekend adventure capturing Milky Way shots in the Dolomites.
This is the life of a Milky Way chaser. You can get stunning results and spend unforgettable nights, but you can also sometimes come home with nothing at all (including no sleep). But the few moments under the stars is absolutely worth all the time, sweat, frozen fingers, bruises and all the other hardships that may come along. So grab your camera and gear, and discover the night!!
ABOUT ANJA: Anja Kallenbach is one of our newest team photographers at Photo Workshop Adventures. Stay tuned for Anja’s upcoming “Chasing the Milky Way in the Dolomites” Photo Adventure, coming in 2018 (to be listed by October 2017). This adventure is geared for everyone and will include only light hikes, 5-star hotel accommodations, and two fun nights camping out in tents. If you are interested in attending and would like to be placed on a wait list, please contact us.
Anja lives in southwestern Germany near the Swiss, French and Italian borders which explains her proximity to some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world.
If you are interested in a Dolomite Mountains Photo Adventure, please checkout Photo Workshop Adventures amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips by clicking on the highlighted link above or any of the photos. Please write me below in the comments.