I'm sure most of you heard, but just in case, it's hurricane season in the United States. I'm not sure if everyone does this, but we name the hurricanes, for clarification sake I guess. Harvey wreaked havoc on Texas, Irma tore through Florida, Jose is on the way, and Maria is behind him. Luckily, for me at least, Irma veered a bit off course and didn't hit the East coast as hard as they originally predicted, which meant I most just got rain and the occasional gust of wind. Leading up to this hurricane, I was thinking of a way to document the storm in my area, but wasn't coming up with any decent ideas. The weather wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, which meant my camera would be safer in the wild, but it also meant there wouldn't be anything super interesting to photograph. I racked my brain for a bit, trying to figure out what to do, as I began planning a couple future trips to other state and national parks, then it hit me. Why not just hike around Hanging Rock? I quickly opened their site, made sure there weren't any closures, grabbed my gear, and ran off to the mountain.
The parking lot was a foggy, ghost town, aside from one couple that decided today wasn't a good day to take in the views (boy, were they wrong). I wasn't sure how windy the peak might be, so I was a bit hesitant to visit it at first, so I decided to hike down the mountain instead. The waterfalls weren't that neat and they were below all the fog and clouds, so I pretty quickly turned around.
I was starting to think I should just head home, because the fog and clouds might be lifting or leaving with the wind and sun that were coming throughout the day. I double checked to make sure I was dry enough, then looked through my camera to see what images I had. Not many. And none of them looked very "hurricane-y". So, I pulled myself together and started up the mile and a half hike to the top of Hanging Rock.
The beginning of the trail was pretty boring. If you haven't been here, the Visitor's Center is on a smaller peak that's separate from the actual Hanging Rock peak, so for the first chunk of the hike, you're walking downhill. Eventually, you reach the bottom of the mountain and start making your way back up. It wasn't long before I found myself entering a forest that existed somewhere between a mysterious and enchanting fantasy world and Silent Hill. I was amazed and could barely keep my chin off the trail, where my eyes should have been. Side note, it's pretty hard keeping your balance when you're always looking up.
Eventually, I hit the end of the treeline and walked through the doorway that lead to one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Up until this point, I was trudging up a muddy and slippery trail, through the rain, wrapped in layers to protect my camera, in the most humid environment possible, without anything to eat, and in some vague hope for something I had no clue about. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
It was absolute and complete isolation. Aside from the trees leading up to and around the base of the mountain, nothing existed. It was just a blank, impenetrable, haze. A weird mixture of amazement and existential crisis swirled together to make me absolutely speechless. If you followed my story on Instagram, you'll remember everything I said was merely describing the view and not what it felt like. I still don't know if I can put this experience into words; the only thing that comes to mind is the word "limbo". Imagine reaching a world where nothing existed outside of the environment directly around you and what experiencing that for the first time might feel like. Yeah, it was weird.
It was weird, but it was beautiful. I took every shot, from every angle, and climbed all over the peak, until there was nothing left to do, other than stare into the white abyss. It was oddly comforting. One thing that kept coming to mind was how I couldn't see the roads or houses or farms that were around the state park and I liked that. It was almost like seeing the world before the influence of mankind.
After a while of walking back and forth, retaking photos, and finally coming to terms with the fact that there was nothing else for me to do up there (and that I was starving), I packed up and made my way back home. The ride back seemed faster than usual, but probably because my mind was still reeling from that hike. I've never had that happen before. Even after getting home, eating, and having a cup of coffee (which probably didn't help at all), I couldn't relax and was slowly going stir-crazy. The next morning, I grabbed my camera and went hiking around my property to shoot some more. I needed to get out of the house again and do something. It was a pretty uneventful walk, but I think that's what I needed.
Once I got home, I had finally calmed down and was able to convince myself to get back to work. It was a weird couple of days and I still think about it on a regular basis. It was eye-opening in ways I never expected a hike in Hanging Rock State Park could be. In conclusion, I guess; if someone tells you that hiking up a mountain, during a hurricane, is a bad idea, they're probably right. However, in my experience, they could be very very wrong. As long as you're safe. Like, super safe. I kinda almost fell once, so at least stay away from the edges. Also, don't tell my mom.