Hanging Rock State Park, Wednesday, 01 October 2014

Well! We did it! We survived! The Hanging Rock State Park Five Peaks Challenge. You get one day, sunrise to sunset, to make the loop to Balancing Rock and the Lookout Tower, Cooks Wall, House Rock, Wolf Rock, and Hanging rock. The loop, for us, started at our tent, and ended at our tent.

Once we got to Cooks Wall, the walk was wearing her down. I worried about her. Hey! I worry about her. It’s what I do, so deal with it. She had to stop for some Gatorade, peanut butter, and pretzels. Trail food. We packed light. And I can’t ever explain how proud of her I am. She hung in, and made the 5 peaks loop.

We started with Balancing Rock and the Lookout Tower. The highest point in the park. Also the steepest ascent, with the most stairs. My God, but it hurt to scale those stairs. I have no idea how many there were. At times, they just seemed endless. Which is why we started with them. Get the hardest part over first.

Of course, that put Hanging Rock last, and that’s not a cake walk either.

The Lookout is about 1.3 miles out from our tent. Give or take a bit. We got there about 0930 hours. It was gorgeous. No, better than that. I can’t begin to describe it. Oh. Look. Bug guts on the display screen. Ah well. Where was I? Oh, yeah. The Lookout. We were above the cloud deck. There were some breaks in the clouds, and we could see the ground, way, way, way down there, and miles away from where we were. We could see other peaks sticking up above the clouds. We spent a little while taking pictures.

Then.

We started on the longest part of the trail. It went downhill from The Lookout, then went uphill to Cooks Wall. That walk didn’t want to end. It’s something like 5+ miles. Holy crap, did it hurt to walk that. Especially since none of it was flat.

Cooks Wall wasn’t anything spectacular. But we did climb the big blocks of granite, and took a few pictures. I even took pictures of The Lookout. You could see it from Cooks Wall. I looked at The Lookout, and said, “Wow. That’s a long way off.” It was. The only way I could verify it was The Lookout was zoom in with the 35X optical zoom on my camera, then look at the picture. Yep. It was The Lookout. Way the hell away from us.

Next, we staggered back down the trail (The last mile to Cooks Wall is an out and back deal. A mile there. A mile back.) to House Rock. I asked her why they called it House Rock. She said, “‘Cause it’s big as a house.”

OK. I can’t argue with that. We had company while at House Rock. Two black vultures. They watched us taking pictures. Figured out we weren’t a threat, and let us take pictures of them. Pat discovered those suckers have one nasty hook on their beaks. The better to shred things with when it’s time to eat.

Next, we walked to Wolf Rock. The 4th stop on our merry jaunt. I was very concerned she wouldn’t make it. But, she said, “We’ve come this far.” And soldiered on. Wolf Rock didn’t really look like a wolf. I got more scenery shots. And we found a lizard of some kind, who was nice enough to let us take some pictures. She told me, “No further! Come back in here!” Yeah. I know. Sometimes I’ll get up to the edge of a zillion foot cliff. I made a point of sticking out my right leg, to get my foot in the picture, to lend some perspective to the view. Yeah. A tiny blue Avia shoe overlooking a cliff.

Then, the walk to Hanging Rock. She sent me ahead of her. Hanging Rock trail is a bitch. Momma. The last 4 tenths of a mile is stairs. Most of them cut from rocks. Most of them better than 8 inches high.

It speaks volumes when a microscopic Pekingese dog, all of a foot tall at her highest point, raced by me, with her part of 3 humans trying to keep up with her. That dog was a fireball of energy.

I took pictures from the top, and kept my promise to her. “No going near the edge!” I found the geo-marker, took a picture of it, and took all my pictures from within ten feet of it. Lots of pictures of people out by the edges. Perspective, I have learned, is important in showing people the scale of Hanging Rock.

Then.

The trip down.

The trip up, I knew I could make. That’s just brute strength and endurance, and pacing yourself. The trip down terrified me. Last year, when we climbed to the peak, the trip down brought me to my knees. My left knee especially. There’s enough ligament damage in my knee that the steep descent from Hanging Rock pushes my knee to its limits. The walk down is a walk of pain. A walk of misery. A walk I can never forget.

And I’ve walked it twice now. Once last year. And today. Most people, the walk down from Hanging Rock is a party. It’s all downhill. Me? It’s torture. And she knows it. She slowed the pace down. She stopped at the benches along the way. She monitored the pain levels by talking with me on the trip down, and when they got too bad, she could hear it in my voice, and she stopped.

Did I mention I love my lady? 🙂

Now, we are in the tent. It’s 2011 hours. She’s on the air bed, under the covers, headed to sleep. I won’t be far behind her.

And tomorrow? We rest. 🙂

Hanging Rock State Park, Tuesday, 30 September 2014

It is now 1907 hours, per the Chromebook. We are now settling into the tent for the first of our three nights here, at campsite 14, in Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina. This is our second visit to Hanging Rock. We visited last October, for 3 nights. As a result, I’m less stressed being here this year than I was last year.

It’s an autistic thing. No. Really. It is. As much as I like to explore new places, the act of exploring them places me under a ton of stress. Because I’m in an unfamiliar environment, which means I don’t know what can happen, how to respond to whatever does happen, how to behave in a social situation in the new environment.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Everybody knows how to behave in any given setting, and can figure it out by observing body language, tone of voice, eye signals, and all the other forms of unspoken communication people have, and use.

Autistic. Remember? That means I don’t pick up on those very things. Yep. Look at me like I’m out of my mind, and I very likely won’t notice.

So, being here a second time means I am less stressed this trip. Because I have some experience in this environment, and some frame of reference to draw from. And that’s a good thing. It means I’ll have more fun, and take more pictures, and experiment more with my camera this trip.

Now…. Now, I want to change the rules, and do something I know how to do. Capture a dream, a feeling, a moment, and put it on paper.

This afternoon, after we set up the tent, we hopped in the xB, and drove to the Lower Cascades Water Fall of the park. The fall is beautiful. What waterfall isn’t? The top is next to a rock face nearly as tall as the fall. At the base of that rock face where the water pulls away, heading toward the cascade, lies a moss and fern garden that could only grow in such a place, partly shielded from the sun, and receiving all the water it needs from the fall. The water plummets down the fall, into a cove. The water of the cove is calm, almost still. You can watch the ripples of leaves as they fall from the trees, trace the paths of the water bugs, as they flit about on its surface. Beside the waterfall, and the cove is an ancient rock face, laced with cracks, nooks, crannies, and holes. Trees, flowers, weeds, grasses, mosses, and lichen grow from the cracks, bringing splashes of green to the somber gray of the rock.

You would love to see it. No picture can ever do it justice.

We took pictures, of course. Lots of pictures. I experimented with camera settings, trying to shorten the exposure time so I could take a picture without the blur of moving the camera. After I finished playing with my camera, I decided to try something different. I turned off my camera, and took the time to experience the place.

The colors, so many shades of green in the trees, grasses, mosses, leaves. splashes of white flowers accenting the scene here and there. The glistening wet rock of the fall. The clarity of the water. The roots of trees, spread on the ground, looking for ways into and through the rock.

The sounds of the fall, of its echo of the rock face in the cove, of the cascades to the far side of the cove. How they washed away the sounds of city life. No cars, no horns, no machines, no phones. Just the sounds of water flowing over rocks.

Then, the rock itself. I closed my eyes, and felt it. Not cold, and unfeeling. Old. Ancient. It was there before humans existed. It will be there after we’re all gone. It has seen so much. It has been there so long.

As I have been known to say, every once in a while. Close your eyes and dream.

Close your eyes and dream.