21 August 2017

Eclipse: Totality

Malheur National Forest

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DAY 1 | eclipse | DAY 2

Waking under a clear sky of stars with just the very first hint of light on the eastern horizon, there are already lights climbing past to get to the peak. Our neighbors said they would go up for the sunrise if they woke early enough. The air is still and feels warm enough to make getting up easy. Today is all about the sun, so I might as well join them. I stuff everything and tuck it away so it will not go blowing if the wind comes up again, then tuck away everything for breakfast and lunch in my pack. The neighbors clearly did wake up because they file out of their tent quietly and start up the mountain. As I head out myself, the light of the dimming stars and the brightening horizon is enough for night tuned eyes to climb the nude mountain. I step carefully through the few trees then start climbing having never turned on my light. It feels really good to not need the light.

starting of some orange light
A little bit of light in the east.

bright ball of orange
Here comes the sun.

mountain shadow
The shadow of the mountain against the rest of the land and the smoke in the west.

long stretch of smoke
There is a bit more smoke today than yesterday.

Once the sun comes up, it is still a few hours until the sun and the moon do their dance. Not too much after the sun, we get a ranger. He is actually out of Klamath National Forest, but his grandparents lived in Prairie City and he has been up visiting as a child, so he gets some local cred. His presence is official and he is getting quite the early start to the day. He is a bit worried the mountain may have more people than are safe, and to think I joked to someone standing near the top of the trail that they were counting for the fire martial. Oh, and he has Smokey Bear eclipse stickers to hand out.

people to the north
Mounds of people to the north of me around 15 to 9 and even more down the ridge, but the guy in the green trousers is not getting worried about the crowd.

people to the south
And even more to the south of me where the trail comes up.

Another ranger comes along after a while, but not the one the first was expecting. I have him instantly pegged as a firefighter because they seem to have a thing about their tools. This guy is carrying a Pulaski and in uniform, although I do not notice it has a Park Service badge until he mentions he is all the way from the National Mall. In spite of being from the wrong department, he is also up here officially. He is actually out this far to help with firefighting efforts to the west. I expect that means Crater Lake, which our neighbors of the night before did not get to experience in all its clear water glory because it is somewhat on fire. Basically, Oregon a few hundred miles west of us is generally on fire. There is a good reason for that long band of smoke over there. Get too far east and Idaho is also generally on fire. In between is our sunny mountain top paradise with a pair of rangers wondering how many will show.

still coming up the trail
Still a few coming.

The show is scheduled to start at 9:08 AM, but it will not get to the good stuff for another hour. Looking at the sun through cardboard glasses that block nearly all the light, there is a moment when I can almost imagine that there might be just a tiny bit of the sun missing from the top. And then the bite grows.

the sun has been nibbled
Common, moon, eat! Eat! Eat!

One person nearby has circles cut from the same material that is in the glasses to cover over his binoculars attached with a bit of duct tape. It is crude, but effective. A bit more duct tape and we have my telephoto lens decked out with one side of a set of eclipse viewing glasses. It is even cruder, but also effective. It is not quite enough to see the line of (relatively) tiny sunspots that seem to sit in a perfect line down the center of the sun and normal to the moon shadow that I can see in the binoculars. I do suspect it should be a little darker for the up to 9x magnification.

a bit more eaten
Getting there.

I still fondly remember experiencing a partial eclipse in Kings Canyon National Park. They had a glass globe to view the indented sun, but I never actually got over to the side of the campground where they had it set up. The sun filtering through the leaves of all the trees was far more interesting. The holes between the leaves act like pinholes and on an ordinary day you can see many circles coming through them. On that day, they all became crescents showing the progress of the moon in front of the sun. Here, there are no trees and the closest ones have needles, so there will be none of that.

pinhole of the hand
Making pinholes with my hands was fun too. It is surprising how pinhole-like even an edge, like along the curve between fingers, can be to show sun crescents. The angle between the sun and the surface was not conducive to good play with this, either.

Meanwhile, it is getting cold. The group of kids near us came up shortly after sunrise and never put their coats on after the warming walk up. Once the sun was nearly half covered, though, that changed and they all pulled on something. I think they are graduate students because, quite by chance, they have noticed one of the visiting lecturers for a seminar class about 20 feet to the other side of us.

large group with glasses
The tank tops have vanished under long shirts and puffy jackets. A chunk of rock passing in front of the sun is a more effective shadow than a bit of cloud and it is getting cold.

As the bit of sun left becomes a thin line, there is something very interesting happening on the horizon. People have talked about watching the shadow move across the land, but all it has made me do so far is note how good this spot will be to watch it. Now it is coming at us at almost 1 km/s. It will be moving along at 2146 mph as it passes us. We are expecting something fairly distinct to be washing across the prairies to the north, but the edges are not remotely certain. I watched The Neverending Story a few too many times as a child, so what is coming at me is the Nothing.

distant shadow on the smoke
Smoke threatens us at the last minute, but mostly it just holds shadow.

shadow moving along the prairie
There it is, out on the prairie and moving this way.

shadow on the next peak
The peak along the westward ridge is in shadow. It is almost here.

shadow races ever eastward
And then it has past us and racing through the east.

Suddenly there is no need for welder goggles level eye protection to look at the sun. The moon overlaps it all plus the tiniest little bit more. Here, a bit off the center line, we have 1 minute 50 seconds to try to take it in.

total eclipse of the sun
After a quick lens change and a removal of the makeshift protections on the telephoto, there it is. The full eclipse.

And while we only have a short time to try to take it in with its flares and the stars coming out around it, we have an even shorter time to take in what it looks like on the land. It is dynamic and it is stunningly beautiful.

white light past the shadow
As the light returns. Yes, it is all a bit crooked, but fixing that would take away detail.

closer still
The edge of the shadow is closer still.

land in light, if still very attenuated
And once more past. The shadow retreats although the light we are in is still highly attenuated.

tiny bit of sun shows again
And the sun is back again.

With the return of a sliver of sun, half the crowd pack up and leave. I still have not had a look in one of the two telescopes that others have lugged all the way up here, so head off to the one in a tent site. The sites got cleared out quite a bit after we decided not to use them. We hear through the grapevine that we were not supposed to be camping up here at the top, but there also seems to have been no way to have known that. More interestingly is the look in the telescope. There are the sunspots again, tiny dots all in a row that still look like they are perfectly normal to the center of the shadow surface.

just a little left covered
More than half the sun has returned.

the last of the watchers
The last of the watchers in the attenuated light. The group second from the left are crowded around a telescope.

As it finishes, a number of us watch it until we can no longer imagine that there might be even the slightest bit of sun left covered. It is done. There are a few who will stay the night up here again, but most of the rest take off down the hill once more. Some folks decided to tease the guy from the National Mall by asking how many he thought were up there. He says he is not authorized to estimate crowd size. Someone else followed it by asking him if there was once water on Mars, and he decided to go for the same answer. I would say there was a couple hundred and it never seemed to be enough to make them worry.

rangers packing up too
Rangers packing up too. Smoke is getting to be visible on all sides.

Few of the factors going into choosing this spot to watch the eclipse were really the ones to use, but it sure worked out. As it turns out, Strawberry Mountain is a peak with 4000 feet prominence and nearly 46 miles of isolation. It is a great place to be when totality is washing over it and the smoke stays distant. I bet there are some really nice mountains to watch the next one from in Chile and Argentina in 2019.

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©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 4 September 2017

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