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Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness- The Conclusion
Field Notes ed XX: photographing the sunrise on the final day of backpacking the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area, North Carolina
Welcome to Field Notes!
This week we conclude the backpacking trip to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, North Carolina, with photographing the sunrise above 5000 ft.
I have included a number of finished photos from The Hangover
I will link to a video I made of this trip
Orion shines coldly. The celestial hunter’s unflinching radiance is scolding. A scattering of pitiless stars overlays the black well of the sky, receding into infinity beyond. I crawl from my tent in the darkness knowing I have missed a rare chance. The allure of the heavens before Eos awakes is stained with sadness and regret. I decided not to wake myself overnight for a small likelihood to witness the starry majesty of the night sky from this mountain perch in the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness. Yesterday evening’s clouds and haze dissipated though, as I slept through the night. Now it is too late, and the Milky Way has set below the horizon.
Why do I come here? These remote locations are difficult to reach, and I do not know what topography or conditions I will find. The journey is exhausting, painful, and cloaked in uncertainty and fear. The answer is that through these challenges, I glimpse who I am capable of being. I photograph and I write. Stitching together my images and words about Nature, in all of her harsh beauty, creates a silhouette of the man who made them. When an opportunity presents, I challenge myself to take it. Here, I have let one pass.
The isobutane fuel canister roars to life in the darkness as I prepare coffee. Time to move on. I gather armfuls of gear, supplies for more coffee, and start for the short walk to The Hangover.
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The morning unfolds smoothly, pleasantly, calmly. The small rocky prominence of The Hangover thrusts me out of the dense rhododendron knitted all around, and exposes me to the sky. Darkness and mountains buttress this knoll from every direction. Photo compositions are plentiful. My attention is divided between balancing tripod legs, adjusting camera settings, and simply absorbing the splendor of this location. Isolated in miles of radiating wilderness, loneliness is abated by activity.
Cloud inversion sprawls into the distance, creating islands of tree covered peaks. Shadows begin to withdraw under the warm glow of the approaching sun. Awe and gratitude awaken within and quickly intensify with the light. Yet, even as they rise, their shade casts a hint of sadness in the knowledge that my time here is short. Emotion must wait. It is time to gather the light, and the experience, for the raw materials of my craft.
In the pre-dawn, at above 5000 ft of elevation, I am chilled and wearing a sweater. The heat builds rapidly. Only 30 minutes after the sunrise sweating starts and layers come off. The light quickly becomes too harsh for good photographs.
I begin to pack my gear. Turning to the trail, I see behind me that my mountain roost is overrun by clouds advancing from the valleys below. With a rush of excitement I grab my camera and, for a while longer, capture the dramatic atmosphere.
Then, I breathe in the scenery one last time and depart.
Now I look forward to the return. It is a long walk, but mostly downhill. After breaking camp I have a short climb to Hangover Lead and the Haeo Lead Trail, but I am fresh and it goes quickly. Now down the ridge. My hopes for a fast pace are delayed by more dense vegetation. Blackberry brambles and not-yet-blooming mapleleaf viburnum crowd the trail, hiding fallen limbs and other obstacles. As the trail descends, trees grow taller. Large oaks tower above. I reach a wider saddle along the still high elevation ridge. Here, beneath the canopy, the grass is tall but undergrowth limited, providing a view of the contour of the land. A gentle breeze stirs leaves and grass. I pause to tie my boot lace and realize I am propped on an ancient fence post with rusted barbed wire still attached. This is Jenkins Meadow, a cattle pasture in a bygone age.
The trail plummets from here. Sassafrass and sourwood spring up in the surrounding woods and I find tender young leaves to chew. The tastes contrast, delicate green and intensely sour. It is the flavor of mountains. Downhill is hard on my knees and I again become covered in sweat, but every step brings me closer to the conclusion of this adventure. Hardship underscores the humble goodness of simple pleasures, and I look forward to the dry cotton shirt that waits for me in the truck.
Video is a weak link in what I’m offering in Field Notes, but I’m learning. I added a couple of shorter clips in last week’s edition. Here is the final full length video I created for this trip. Keep in mind its shot hand held with my phone and there were many times I was preoccupied with crashing through shrubbery or just too exhausted to film. Its just under 8 minutes long, but I’ve added some music to this one. Hopefully, it is a bit more engaging than some of my older videos.
This has been a trip to remember and, if you’ve made it this far with me, I hope it has inspired in you a sense of adventure and creative wonder. Writing about the experience triggers a nostalgia in me, but I’m already looking ahead to what comes next.
Next week, look forward to some musings on creativity and the creative process while I draft plans for my next adventure. I hope you will join me!
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