“..the sea's only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.”
- Primo Levi
A year ago, me & a travel partner & bestfriend of mine Geraldine Chavez, unintentionally began an autumn tradition. To head into the eastern Kentucky mountains around the third week of October to hike & camp in the remote backcountry of Daniel Boone National Forest. Out of all the camp outings I've embarked on this year, alone or even with friends. This one is definitely on the top of the chart for me, this weekend was overflowed with spiritual experience & beautiful visuals to accompany. We headed out while the moon was just deciding to clock out for the night & arrived at the trailhead just as the sun was clocking in. With open minds & anxious hearts, we slung our packs on after quickly snacking on some pumpkin seeds & jerky. We couldn't get our feet on the trails soon enough.
Once the trail lead us to a series of steep sandstone ridges for us to climb, we took to them like lent to tape. I always make sure Geraldine is on the same page with the terrain as I am, like always she was. She's one tough woman I'm telling you, I've camped in freezing temperatures with her in these very mountains & she occupied a smile as long as I did. We used a rope fixture attached to a thick young pine tree to help us get some of the last few vertical feet in before we hiked up some sandstone & tree roots to the top. At last, we had arrived to camp for that night, on a high ridge in the mountains called "Cloud Splitter". Shortly after arriving & setting our packs down on the sandstone summit we took in the view that the narrow ridge offered & ran into a familiar face from earlier on the trail below. His name is Cody Lutz, he's a native New Yorker, (rural New Yorker that is) that now lives in Florence, KY.
He was a very pleasant humble young man, after establishing a greeting & excited agreement to be camping neighbors for that night, me & him took our empty canteens back down to the forest floor to find some water sources & firewood. Geraldine happily decided to stay back & was enjoying the views & kicking off her boots. The descent was much quicker this go around as I didn't have the weight of my pack on & I was thirsty, when your genuinely thirsty your priorities change & you become only focused on retrieving water. Luckily for us, just about 150 feet from the base of the mountain I heard something beautiful, the faint but assured sound of moving water. A stream flowing through the forested hillside just across from the trail. We followed the sound off into the brush not long before finding the flowing stream, our relief source for the night. We took our time filling & purifying our water canteens while continuing small talk about our current adventures out west we both coincidently have embarked on this year. Once we had our water cleaned & stowed away, we then gathered a healthy amount of downed limbs & pine chunks & stacked them into a pile in order to tie a knot around them, to help make the wood get back up the mountain easier. Once we made our last ascent up the ridge for the night, we settled down around our campfire & enjoyed a beautiful sunset with all our favorite camping snacks.
Myself & Geraldine decided that night we would enjoy the environments fully by sleeping in our sleeping bags right on the smooth sandstone summit floor beside the fire we built. After a night full of spiritual insights, passionate rants about the wilderness & my informal speech about Chris McCandless & his story to Cody, he retired to his hammock while me & Geraldine nestled into our sleeping bags for the night. I watched the fire flicker & flame until it was a ominous orange glow simmering to ash, the moon was shining bright & thousands of stars were making their selves visible. I awoke a few times throughout the night, looking out from my sleeping bag was such beauty before me. A dark sky with a high moon sheltering the ridge with a purple glow, this was seriously one of the most beautiful nights of sleep I've experienced. Around 6:00 a.m. , a light but consistent rain fall began, I notified the gang that we needed to act & setup our tents & rain shelters. I was seriously impressed with how fast Geraldine setup her tent in complete darkness as I gathered our gear to cover from the elements. Cody, unfortunately didn't have a rain fly for his hammock & our tent was exclusively big enough for two people so he had to make a steady dash down the mountainside. I was worried about him, so I recommended him to stay in the cave that was just about 80 feet directly bellows us for shelter, he obliged thankfully. Soon after he slung his pack on, he quickly vanished into the blackened mist surrounding the ridge we considered home that day. I returned to the tent & quickly was back to a better sleep, I must say. Not as much to see in a covered tent I suppose.
All images shot with Kodak Portra 160 film & a 35mm Minolta camera.