I first visited Anvil Rock four years ago. One of the images I brought home from that cold, July morning has become something of a favourite of mine, but I've always known there were more, and probably better, photographic options waiting there. So every time I get back to Gibraltar Range National Park, I try and include a sunrise walk to Anvil Rock to see what I can find.
A short camping trip in July 2012 presented me with the latest opportunity to explore the towering granite slopes and massive boulders of Anvil Rock, and to photograph the surrounding rugged countryside anew. As you'd expect, not a lot changes from year to year in a wilderness area like this, but every visit brings different light conditions and new ideas on how to capture the beauty of the area in photographs.
I left camp at Mulligan's Hut at 4:45am to drive the short distance to the head of the Anvil Rock trail. Sub-zero overnight temperatures had coated my windscreen with a thin layer of ice, which I thought would quickly thaw as the car got moving. Instead, I spent most of the 10 minute drive with my beanie-clad head out the window trying to keep the edge of the dirt road in view.
That minor obstacle out of the view, and with a particularly cold nose for my troubles, I finally set off on the 40 minute walk to Anvil Rock. Frost-encrusted shrubs beside the walking track sparkled like Christmas trees in the torchlight and the short, frozen grass crunched and crackled underfoot.
In no time, I was scrambling up the final rock chute and onto the flat platforms of Anvil Rock. The top of Anvil Rock is well above where mere mortals (like me) can easily reach - you need to be slightly crazy and be equipped with ropes and good climbing skills to attempt to go any further. I'm sure the views are great from the top, but I'm also happy in the knowledge that I'll never experience them for myself!
One of my favourite views is towards the south and another granite outcrop, Old Man's Hat. This view was the subject of my photograph from the first trip (above), and I'd decided to try for a new version. So by torchlight, I searched around for camera positions and took a few long exposures in the pre-dawn gloom. Eventually, I settled on a composition very similar to my earlier photo with a rock face and tree trunk framing the right of the image, a taller tree framing the left, and the outline of Old Man's Hat prominent on the horizon.
21mm, f11, 30 seconds, ISO 320
Old Man's Hat catching the first rays of sunrise. 200mm, f11, 1/8 second, ISO 200
I remembered from earlier visits that the eastern-facing rock on the right of my composition catches the first rays of sunrise, so it was just a matter of waiting for the moment to arrive. The receding darkness slowly revealed more details of the surrounding countryside and allowed me to fine tune the composition to a glorious soundtrack provided by the chiming tones of a lyrebird's morning song.
The moment of sunrise didn't disappoint - laser-like shafts of golden light shot across the woodland and straight onto the rock face a few metres from where I stood. This was one of those moments where Mother Nature outdid herself and took me by surprise. Within 30 seconds, the rock face and tree trunk were aglow with vivid orange light as I alternated between firing the shutter and mouthing "wow" and other inadequate exclamations. It was quite simply the most beautiful spectacle I'd seen in a long time and it left me trembling. A minute later, the best of it was over.
View to the south from Anvil Rock in the dazzling light of sunrise. 17mm, f10, 1/4 second, ISO 200
With the vivid colours still glowing on the backs of my eyes, I ran around to the north-west facing rock platform and found a couple of other compositions that took advantage of the morning light. The view down onto a series of grass trees and beyond was another one I'd captured before, but the angle and vibrancy of the light on this morning transformed it into something more special than previous efforts. The clearly outlined shadow of Anvil Rock in the distance added a nice touch.
The shadow of Anvil Rock spreading over the woodland. 34mm, f13, 1/3 second, ISO 320
After sitting down to a snack of nuts and dried fruit, and still smiling from the light show I'd just witnessed, I headed back down from Anvil Rock for a leisurely stroll back to the car. It wasn't until I'd dropped down from the steeper, rocky sections of the track that glistening crystals of frost on shaded vegetation reminded me how cold it still was. This gave me the idea to head for a shaded section of swampland I knew might still be cloaked in frost.
A few minutes later I stood on the edge of the swamp, taking in a fairy-tale scene more eye-catching than I'd imagined. A large swathe of swampland in the shade of Anvil Rock was as white as snow, contrasting beautifully with the golden swamp grasses in the background where sunlight had already thawed the frost. A brilliant blue sky capped off the magical scene.
19mm, f14, 1/4 second, ISO 100
I don't like to trudge around in these swamps because the vegetation is so delicate and can take a long time to recover - apart from the fact that some areas are very boggy and the last thing you want is a bootful of icy swamp water! But around the edges you can often find wallaby tracks meandering through the reeds and between shrubs. So for the next hour I carefully waded around in the waist high vegetation in the footsteps of wallabies, capturing images of ice crystals on shrubs and reeds. I started off taking a few wider views with my 17-40mm lens, but then changed to a 70-200mm to capture more intimate portraits of the icy vegetation.
It's hard to walk away from a scene like this, but with the frost beginning to recede and with a full memory card, I kicked the ice crystals off my boots against a rock and made my way back out to the main trail.
Perhaps the biggest reward waiting for a landscape photographer is to experience one of those 'wow' moments in beautiful surroundings, and then to capture the moment in a way that resonates with someone who wasn't there to smell, hear, touch or see the scene as you did. A two dimensional photograph tells only a small part of the whole story, but if it captures enough of the essence of the moment to make others stop and take notice, then it has successfully done its job.
I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Anvil Rock. Each visit reveals a few more of its secrets, and I'm sure I've only begun to scratch the surface.