"Even on our last breath of sanity, we must not give up. For the summit of life holds everything worth living & dying for." That's typically the way I think, I remember writing this quote in a journal a year ago. I was taken back to these words while solo back packing my trek through the burning hot forest that was devastated & consumed by fallen trees far & wide from the storms that mother nature unleashed just days before my arrival to the remote backcountry.
It was pushing 96 degrees in the sun, humidity was at it's usual summer Kentucky high (80-90%) & I was dead set on spending the weekend backpacking alone to Cloud Splitter in the Daniel Boone National Forest. I got to the trailhead around 2:00pm, slipped my Danner's on & adjusted my pack before heading into the beautiful Kentucky wilderness. I decided to intentionally hike the longer trail route to Cloud Splitter, to spend the majority of my daylight hiking & scouting for photo ops. After reaching my third mile, I set my steel frame down against a sandstone wall & snacked on a Justin's peanut butter packet & indulged in several deep drinks from my water bottle. The break was short, but entirely necessary. Once I started to hike further into the remote wilderness, my entire outfit was soaked wet with sweat...everything from my socks to my Patagonia cap. My peaceful & self empowering hike quickly turned into an all out ambush of sweat bee's & mosquitoes swarming my every move & swat. Although your "not supposed" to swat at the sweat bee's, you can't seem to help yourself when they fly into your ears, nostrils, shorts & all over your glazed arms. While I was growing to deal with this very intense amount of buzzing in & around my head, being stung by most of them that landed on me knowing they weren't going away anytime soon since I was covered in sweat & had many hours of hot weather ahead of me. I pressed onward anyways, with the thoughts of a late night fire on top of Cloud Splitter's ridges, the morning views, the sense of accomplishment & overcoming. I'm too weak to turn around & not finish what I've started at times.
Making the decision of pressing onward was a quick thought without much pause, my goal was to get onto Cloud Splitter as quickly as possible. I picked up my pace to a power-walk & was motivated to get to the beautiful high sandstone ridges to cool off under the many pine tree's atop the ridge & to rehydrate. I needed to dry out so these bee's would literally stop eating me alive (yes, it was as bad as it sounded). The last two miles were the toughest, the trail basically had become completely absent due to the many wind/thunderstorms from earlier in the week. I had to hike around, climb, & cut my way out of the mess of 100-200 dead fallen tree's until I reached the base of the ridgeline. When I reached the base, I was so ready to get there my brain basically went on auto-pilot & I just magically floored it up the side of the sandstone & made it to the top at my new record speed. I was there, finally at camp for the night. I stripped down & immediately laid on my Z-Lite pad towards the open face of Cloud Splitter facing out to the western valley of DBNF. I munched on an apple & in attempts to drying off (to keep the sweat bee's away), kept still as I could & didn't try moving around too much because the sun was still pounding down & there was roughly two hours of sunlight left that day. I watched the sunset while collecting fire wood for the night's campfire, the vibes we're getting better & within an hour I made six & a half (three couples & a dog) new friends that had also backpacked up to Cloud Splitter that day. Once I had our fire going, the whole group of us enjoyed the infinite ceiling of stars & galaxies over head, talked about our favorite movies, hikes, foods & experiences all while one of the guy's (didn't get his name) was playing Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" album on his little pocket speaker radio. Around 12:45, the fire was retiring & we all returned to our tents/hammocks for the night. I crawled into my tent, took my headlamp off & watched the moon with all it's orange-glowing glory that night & thanked the Lord I made it there that day, that I didn't turn around.
5:00am the next morning, I awoke to my watch alarm beeping in my backpack. I sat up to turn it off & to get my morning cup of coffee ready... but was distracted by the beauty that was held before me around my tent & the ridges of Cloud Splitter. Purely hypnotized & smitten by the thick fog that bled into the ethos of the sun's arriving for the new day. I hopped out of the tent to get a better look, every bird was awake & working overtime that morning. This memory was one I will not soon forget, or ever for that matter. Witnessing the birth of a new day is something to not be taken for granted of. Hard work in the tree line will always pay off in the end, this adventure continues to prove such a thing. No matter the journey or the doubt of destination's arrival, we must try & proceed onwards, only onward. We are rewarded when we find the light worth searching for in the dark.
All images shot with Kodak Portra 160 film.
George Barnett, a Kentucky native that spends the better part of his days in the remote wilderness backpacking & roaming to find the next mountainside of inspiration. He & his son Levi Barnett have a untouchable relationship that only the tree's & lakes can comprehend. George searches for truth in conservation, the purpose of nature & it's inhabitants.