The frozen Letchworth Falls
This past summer, I was visiting Letchworth Falls in upstate New York, and while hiking around these fantastic waterfalls, surrounded by bright green vegetation, I realized it was one of those places I would love to visit in winter. I am passionate about photographing ice, and just imagining what I could find there excited me about the possibility of coming back. I would have never guessed it would be just a few months ahead.
Many of the ideas that I had carefully planned had fallen apart, but this time, the opportunity to visit the frozen waterfalls suddenly presented itself and was an unexpected gift.
The Letchworth State Park is located an hour’s drive from Rochester, where temperatures during winter are frigid, and the humidity of Lake Ontario produces a lot of snow. These two factors are a perfect combination to take great winter photographs, but at the same time, extreme weather makes it difficult to predict whether roads will be open or whether there will be access to the trails, which may be covered in ice.
I knew I was taking a risk, but I decided to start my journey from Florida, more than 1,600 miles away. I love the feeling of taking the road and dreaming ahead of time about the places I’m going to visit. I arrived in Rochester on a cold January night, in the middle of a snowstorm, with a temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The following morning the secondary roads were still covered in snow and ice, so I delayed my visit.
A couple of days later, the morning was cloudy, but it wasn’t snowing. I took my cameras and started driving. The pale and soft light would be perfect for photographing this kind of landscape because when the sun shines, it is hard to avoid the intense reflection on the waterfalls and the snow.
When I got to the park, I found the road closed with a barrier, the GPS had no signal, and the only paper maps I found were so frozen that they fell apart when I opened them. I didn’t want to give up because I knew I was close!
I waited a few minutes, and I was fortunate that a park ranger was passing by and decided to stop and ask me if I needed any help. As I explained the situation to him, he brought me a new map and showed me how to access the detour route during winter. The ground was icy and slippery when I finally got to the parking lot. I carefully walked to the shore while listening to the loud water noise.
Soon, I entered a magical and utterly white world. At first, I only saw the branches of the trees and bushes covered by a thick layer of ice, but when I reached the cliff’s edge, I noticed how the steam from the waterfalls froze instantly on the rocks and the walls of the canyon. Every slight turn was covered by ice, and only the river rushed through that beautiful and monochromatic area.
The wind was blowing hard, and the cold passed through my clothes no matter how many layers I was wearing, but the beauty of the place was so absorbing and irresistible that I didn’t care. I knew I wouldn’t be able to be there for long, access was minimal, and all the trails were closed, but I could see and photograph two of the waterfalls.
Every winter, this incredible and ethereal world of ice is built by water, wind, temperature, and sunlight, but although it seems static, it is not. It changes all the time. For more than 20 years, I have been photographing ice, and I had never seen the surprising icicles I found there. Those frozen sculptures grow as the mist. Tiny droplets adhere to every surface and freeze. The ice melts when the temperature rises, and the dripping water makes the icicles grow. Ice takes the shape of everything beneath it, adapting to curves, textures, and sizes, and can appear solid, opaque, or transparent depending on the air bubbles trapped within it. It can be strong and hold a lot of weight without breaking, or it can be as fragile as glass and can split in a gust of wind.
I left feeling happy, taking the images in my cameras and the beautiful memories in my heart.