The first campout of the year took place just off the Appalachian Trail along the Virginia and West Virginia border.
The afternoon was windy and cold, and the night was to be still and colder. The moon would set before the sun, so the sky would be dark. I threw some extra gear in my backpack – a digital SLR camera, camera tripod, and remote release for the camera. This backpacking trip would include my return to astrophotography.
There is an outcropping of rocks about three miles north of VA Route 7 in northern Virginia. This overlook would be a perfect spot to take for photos of the night sky. The 3-mile section of Appalachian Trail to Crescent Rocks (aka Raven Rocks) isn’t a tough trip, but nearly every foot is either ascending or descending the western face of a mountain ridge. The first stream crossing had been in the shadow of a mountain since autumn and the water was frozen. The second stream crossing was free of ice.
I arrived at Crescent Rocks a few minutes before sunset. I took a few photos, pitched my tent, and then enjoyed a hot dinner at the overlook while the sky darkened. Astrophotography is best when the sky is dark, so I climbed into my sleeping bag for a few hours to wait for the sun to sink well below the horizon. The temperature plunged from the twenties to the teens. It was way too cold to leave my sleeping bag, walk to the cliff, and take photos. I thought for a long time.
My sleepy mind found a compromise -- take photos from the comfort of my sleeping bag. I attached the camera to a tripod, set it up just outside the tent door, and used an infrared remote release to take photos. From midnight to 1:30 a.m., my camera captured the night sky above the quiet campsite. Taking photos was simply a matter of pointing the camera up, and pressing a button on the remote, all from the warmth of a sleeping bag.
The next morning was uneventful. I packed the gear, recorded a video, and then hiked back to trailhead parking. The campout was declared a success -- dinner included a tremendous view, the night sky was photographed, and no one froze to death. This night also served as the first campout of my project, 52StarryNights.