Monday, July 1, 2013

The First Chamois


Today's images come from the recent trip to Europe.  It was not our usual type of vacation and as a result I probably came back fewer images that excite me for their artistic quality than the trips Jenny and I usually take.  For this trip we had company.  Our two oldest nephews graduated High School and this was their present.  We had promised the trip two years ago and the parents had set grade expectations on the trip which were met easily by both boys.  So on this trip instead of getting into myself and becoming a photographic savant, I was tour guide and bus driver most the trip.  Most my images are pretty pedestrianly  touristy as a result.

But that is not to say I like the images any less.  For what they lack in photographic quality, they make up for with memories that will last a lifetime.  The best part of this trip was seeing the amazement in someone else's eyes of things you have in some shape or manner, become accustomed to.

A perfect example is "The Hike".  We had meant to do more, but we were on the run from here to there so often we really only got one good hike in.  On the day we left Munich for Austria, we drove south and to the Berchtesgaden National Park.  Berchtesgaden is a little appendage of Germany that pokes into Austria just west of Salzburg.  The Northern reaches of the Alps is noted by snowy peaks and deep lakes, including the Konigsee. 

After a maze of poorly planned construction projects and a lack of tangible detour routes on our way from Munich, we found ourselves in the park and at the town of Berchtesgaden. We decided to take the ferry to the Monastery of St Bartholoma on the distant shore of the lake.  The boat ride was a pleasant affair, but deep crystal clear water with towering mountains on all sides tends to be a pleasant experience. 

The Boat's tour guide made a point to stop the boat, turn off the engine and serenade the mountain walls with dulcet tones from his trumpet.  The mountain wall returned the serenade and for this miracle of nature, the tour guide extracted a euro from each passenger.  NOTE:  When in Europe, if you see someone with a musical instrument in public...RUN LIKE HELL.  But then sometimes they follow you...like a few years back in Dresden when Jenny and I were followed around for 5 minutes by a wandering band of gypsies who thought their performance should have been valued at a higher rate than the euro we tipped them...

Anyhow...Back to the story...After arriving at St Bartholoma, we admired the ancient monastery church with its roof containing seven "onion" domes within its construction.  Jenny decided to relax and watch people from a bench by the lake shore and the nephews and I decided to hike to the "Ice Chapels".  The chapels are formed as a wall of ice melts each spring and summer and slides further down the mountain but away from the mountain walls, creating  a gap between the wall of Ice and the mountain - The Ice Chapel.
 
After a quarter mile the trail became steep for about a half a mile, which combined with the altitude, gave the nephews a good burn in the calves and me a pretty elevated heart rate.  It became less steep thereafter.  As it rose above the tree line, views to the lake below and across to other showy mountains became quite impressive.  The nephews' eyes swelled with amazement.  The trail eventually turned into a scramble over rocks and a fast heavy flow of water across the seasonal snow fed river was too risky to cross so we had to stop just a few hundred yards from the ice chapels.

I didn't really think too much about it at the time, but afterwards they both mentioned the hike as the highlight of the entire trip.  For all that came before and after, I was a little surprised. 

It was a mystery I deciphered on the flight home.  It took me remembering back to my first big hike in the high mountains above the tree line.  For me it was in June in the Rockies above Vail.  The hike kicked my ass, but I remember sitting at the top of the trail looking down at the village below captivated by the experience.  It was crack to the senses.  It has never left me and I realized that the boys were having that same experience.  You'll never have the same experience in a car.  The physical exertion to get there is a catalyst for the euphoria.

The way back also brought another first for all of us.  As we walked, Braden suddenly stopped and fumbled to get his camera out...he pointed and said "Deer" and as he did, something rustled away deeper into the woods.  Knowing that there are not really deer as we know them in Europe, their Red Deer is probably more akin to what we would know as an Elk.  But this thing moved too fast to be something as large as an Elk, so I asked Braden to describe it.  He said it had antlers with only one, maybe two points.  I said that I thought it might be a Chamois.  To which the invariable question was asked what’s a chamois?

I tried to explain what a chamois was as we walked further.  But the best we could do was to come up with word play jokes about highly absorbent wash towels.  We eventually came upon Alec who had wandered ahead.  He had stopped and was looking at something.  He asked "John what are those?"

"Chamois" I said, as a mother and fawn chamois stood but 100 yards from us.  The fawn was as captivated with us as we were of it.  The mother was a bit more timid.  Everyone took pictures, they with their PNS’s and I started off with my 14 - 150mm walk around lens...but no one was getting close enough to really let the images visually describe the animals in front of us.  Prior to the trip I had purchased a Panasonic 100 - 300mm telephoto for the OMD in case such an instance occurred.  I had been openly hopeful it would be used to photograph Ibex.  Turns out it was meant for a pair of Chamois, Mother and Fawn. 

 
 
As the MFT format doubles the focal length measurements compared to standards lenses, It is a long lens.  With the shade and sun, the lighting was tricky.  Shooting handheld, I wasn't particularly steady from the long hike.

We lingered for 25 minutes photographing and watching the Chamois and in return the Chamois were watching us.  We loitered such that we nearly missed the last boat back to Berchtesgaden.  The Chamois was a first for all, another on what had become a trail of firsts for all of us. 

I can see now why this was the nephew's favorite moment of the trip.
 

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