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Shining Rock Southern Loop, Day 2
Field Notes XXVIII: Backpacking and photographing Mt Tennent to Sam Knob in the Shining Rock Wilderness, NC
Welcome to Field Notes!
Today we continue the trek through the southern portion of the Shining Rock Wilderness, NC, starting from where I camped at the top of Mt Tennent and going to the second night’s camp on top of Sam Knob.
I will include as many photographs from the journey as I can, but keep checking my portfolio galleries for more-
There is a new link at the end of this issue with options for purchasing prints. Please keep this in mind as you view these photographs!
Sleeping on slanted ground makes for an uncomfortable night. I wake at 4 am to the beep of my GoPro camera turning itself off. With clear skies at bedtime I had set it to capture a nightlapse of the stars as I slept.
Something about the rustle of my tent makes me think conditions have changed. I peak out and find Mt Tennent, this 6000 ft peak in the Shining Rock Wilderness of North Carolina, is embedded in clouds. My GoPro has only captured amorphous shades of grey, dimly illuminated by an obscured moon.
Temperatures are not frigid, but dampness and chill permeate everything. Wind rages on the south side of the mountain but my camp, just over the crest to the north and below a rock outcrop, is protected from most. I try to lay back down for more sleep, but errant gusts stir the tent fabric and keep me awake.
Sunrise is not until 07:45. By 06:00 I have made coffee and, lacking anything else to do, I begin packing up camp. I’m done by 06:15. I sit on the rocks, turn my headlamp off, and look up in the darkness. The clouds race by around me and sporadically reveal the stars above.
Waking up in the wilderness grants a sense of belonging to this place. Emotionally, it is as if I have always been here and always will be. Some of the anguish related to hardships back home that I carried with me yesterday has settled under darkness and sleep. I gaze at the sky and find myself focused on tasks at hand in the present moment.
The sun rises and lights the earth with a lack of vibrancy or color. But, the clouds break apart spectacularly. In the growing daylight they hang low and slink across the yellow and red October mountainsides with a feline grace. The constantly shifting forms provide endless photographic compositions.
I leave Mt Tennent behind and hike to the nearby Black Balsam Knob, marginally higher and much broader at the top. The surrounding clouds persist and I feel I could spend all day here taking photos of them, but I must move on.
Now on the Art Loeb Trail, I descend to a spur trail that skirts the edge of an evergreen forest that resembles a northern or European ecosystem. I pass a parking lot and jump onto the Flat Laurel Trail, still moving down and circling the sides of a valley filled with orange and gold.
As the sun climbs the clouds dissipate. I am in a race to make it to the Flat Laurel Waterfalls before they are gone. It is lunchtime when I arrive, with skies mostly clear and deep blue. The direct, high angled sunlight makes photographing the falls difficult, yet I gladly make an attempt.
These waterfalls are a low point in the journey in terms of elevation, but reciprocally high in mood. Hiking in cooler temperatures is very enjoyable and I savor the slow climb up Sam Knob. This peak is new to me, although I have seen it clearly from Green Knob in the adjoining Middle Prong Wilderness. The distance to the top isn’t far, but it is steep. I purchase my progress with my legs and lungs.
Views from atop Sam are astonishing. A shorter, direct route from the previous parking lot make it a popular destination for day hikers, even mid week. I have several friendly encounters, but they all eventually leave in the late afternoon. Only one other backpacker stays.
The low angle of the late October sun creates excellent light for making photos. I begin just after 4 pm and continue as the sun sinks towards the mountain tops. Just before sunset heavy cloud cover starts moving in quickly. It shrouds the views of the wilderness around me with drama and and a solemn feeling of reverence.
Very sad recent personal events still weigh on me during this trip. I reflect on things that are in my control and those that are not. A simple path to fulfillment in life is the knowledge that I am not in control events outside of me, but in total control of my choices and my response to those events and thus am in control of my own happiness. As is said so often, simple does not mean easy. Emotions do not always align with reason, and amplify by change. Marcus Aurelius wrote-
Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and will be carried away too.
Mountains recede into the distance. They are subject to the constant change of weather, seasons, and the erosion of the passing eons. As my emotions fray from attachments that cannot be held onto, I need perspective and the wilderness gifts it to me. Nature persists just as is always has and always will. Constant change is an everlasting process. In that knowledge I find well being.
Clouds cover Sam Knob as darkness falls. I retreat to camp, sheltered in low shrubbery, and prepare a chicken and dumplings backpacking meal. The warm comfort of this simple food satisfies my fatigued body and mind more than any other meal I can remember.
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How do you like my photography? My hope is that it impacts you in an emotional way. Perhaps you have a similar connection to Appalachia or maybe just to nature in general. Would you consider purchasing a print? In the link below I’m including all of the photos from this trip to the Shining Rock Wilderness in a gallery where they are available for purchase as prints. They are available on photo paper, canvas wraps, or printed on metal. Because the photos themselves are different ratios and sizes, I’ve included several size options for the prints. Take a look and see which fits best. It will also give you a preview of how the print looks on a wall with nearby furniture. The panoramas will not fit in these size options and will be cropped. If you really want a panorama print contact me and I will look into it. Ask me any question you have about what you are considering. I know prints can be expensive, but the proceeds will be re-invested into making Field Notes better! Here’s the link-