this shot is level. That is the incline on the big rock.
I needed a change of scenery. I made a reservation last week, got up super early and headed due west to Fredericksburg, Texas where I took a left onto a rural highway and eventually drove through the front gates of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. I grabbed my backpack, my wide brimmed hat and a paper map of the park and got moving.
Enchanted Rock is the largest granite rock in the continental united states and peaks at 1800+ feet above sea level. Lots of people climb the rock via the Summit Trail and it can be a tough climb in hot weather but at least the trail goes straight up the tamest side. The rock soaks up heat from the sun with a brutal efficiency. And the climb is a steep angle. Best to do your climb in the early part of the morning.
For my traditional climb to the summit I took along a Panasonic S1R camera with the Lumix 24-70mm f2.8. Seemed the right mix of focal lengths and the right kind of resolution. My backpack had two insulated water bottles, the map, some hand sanitizer, a small first aid kit, a German Army knife, an extra bandana and my phone. Oh, and a tube of sunscreen. Which I used. Liberally.
I've climbed the rock many times before but I have to confess that I trudged up a bit slower this time and was a little winded at the top. When I was twenty I could have run up it in a flat out sprint. In fact, I think I did that once or twice in the company of a very competitive friend. At 64 a nice, steady pace seemed like the ticket.
When I got to the top I sat down in the shadow of a big boulder and meditated about life and the interesting times that we now find ourselves in. So much has changed so quickly. I thought I'd be banging out photos for corporate clients for a few more years and then I'd throw in the towel and leave on a high note. But I think that high note might already have been sung. We'll see. Either way fate pushes the plot I'll be fine with it. One seems always convinced that they are in control of their own destiny until something comes along to remind you that you continue to exist by the grace of nature and chance. On the other hand you only get one shot at being alive so it's best to focus on enjoying what's in the moment. "Be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment." -Star Wars: the Phantom Menace.
I wanted to spend time in this particular park today for a selfish reason. It's also why I came alone. To be honest I always think that I'm fighting off the inevitable process of aging when I'm swimming hard in the pool. But now that there is no pool I often find myself worrying that I'm getting soft, letting myself go. Giving into inertia and entropy and slowly shuffling toward a physical decline that seems always to be lurking; waiting in the shadows, ready to slow you down and tire you out.
My intention at Enchanted Rock was to start with a baseline jaunt up the big rock and then descend on the south side through a challenging field of huge boulders and loose granite. Halfway through my descent, off the beaten path but through a boulder field I'd traversed a couple of decades ago, I had a moment of genuine fear. I had to jump a gap between boulders and land on a small spot. Fear riveted me and I paused. Then I took off my backpack and packed my camera down into it. That was the only way I felt I could make the scramble. I needed both hands free in case I had to grab onto the rock to keep from falling. The camera swinging in front of me on the strap was throwing off my balance.
I made the climb down by the skin of my teeth--- but I made it. I would have felt really stupid if I'd have fucked up and crashed but since I was the only one in that more remote area no one would have seen an embarrassing (and dangerous) fall. Not my smartest bit of logistics but I survived and having replicated a descend that was challenging for me 20 or 25 years ago brought a smile to my face; under my face mask. I could still move. My balance isn't gone yet.
I spent most of the morning, from 9 to noon, exploring and doing non-technical rock climbs in other boulder fields in between two of the bigger rock domes. Then it was time for lunch. I shot a lot of stuff with the S1R and 24-70mm but damn, it's heavy stuff. I headed back to the car to grab my lunch and to find a picnic table in the shade. I had a peanut butter (salted, crunchy) and black berry jam sandwich on sourdough bread, with a water chaser. Then I pulled the map of the area out of my pack and planned out my afternoon. Where the morning was about challenging myself on the rocks the afternoon was about an endurance walk.
There is a Loop Trail called... the Loop Trail that rings the entire park. It's a little under five miles but it's got lots and lots of steep elevations and descents, it's a primitive trail and it's annoyingly poorly marked in a number of places. I had one full bottle of water left in my pack and I also switched out cameras. I left the S1R in the car and took the Sigma fp with the Zeiss 50mm out for a spin. It's lighter.
I slathered on sunscreen, memorized the curves and cutbacks on the map and then headed out. Some of the trail intersects with smooth, angled granite fields and it's easy to miss the continuing trail on the other side of a 200 meter run of rock. Most of the trail is dry clay or gravel but parts just disappear and you have to survey the 180 degrees in front of you in order to pick out where it continues. Every 100 steps or so I stop just to listen to my surroundings without the crunching sound of gravel beneath my feet.
At one point, about half way around the trail and up on a little granite hill I stopped suddenly to listen and heard a distinct rattle. I stayed motionless and watched as a six footer slithered out of the grass, across the trail about 15 feet in front of me, and into the rocks on the other side. I watched it move away but I stayed still and waited because sometimes (many times) rattlesnakes travel in pairs. I scanned the grass with intensity and then, wavering a bit from the heat of the direct sun, I moved forward on the trail trying to keep my foot falls as soft as I could. No sense attracting attention.
The park threw me a bit of a curve ball today. I'd gone nearly 80% of way around when I hit an actual roadblock and a sign that the end part of the trail was closed right now and I'd need to detour back to Turkey Pass Trail and then follow it to Front Side Trail. The clear sky meant the sun was warming up the afternoon quickly and I'd made a bad calculation about the amount of water I needed to carry in. After all, it's a series of primitive trails with no amenities. No restrooms. No water.
The detour added nearly two miles and required me to scramble back over some of the steeper parts of the trail that I'd just come through. I'm happy I had a map and a compass with me... A bit more water would have been nice too.
I found some shade on the edge of a granite ledge and decided to take a break and savor the last few ounces of water in my bottle. I was about to take off my pack and sit down when I heard another rattle just a few feet into the brush line. I decided to back away slowly, across the granite ledge, and find somewhere else to sip water. I didn't have snake bite kit with me and I didn't know exactly how far I'd have to go if nature tossed me a bad hand.
Half an hour and a bit of sweat later I walked out of the primitive trails and back onto the main Summit Trail. I'd made it back to the start. I walked over to my car, tossed in the camera and back pack, took off my straw hat and sat on the open tailgate taking stock of my situation. My life. And, in that moment of honest reflection I decided that I was pretty damn happy and satisfied. It's fun being a photographer but I no longer needed to define myself by my job. I'm getting older but I can still knock out a physical adventure at pace. I can still make it up a big dome of pink granite ahead of a lot of people less than half my....level of experience.
But what I really needed just in the moment, after reflecting that life is still exciting and fun and happy for me, was something cool and refreshing to drink. I headed back toward Fredericksburg, Texas and did something I'd never get away with if my friends or family were with me... I headed to the McDonalds and got a large Coca-Cola from the drive thru. Crushed ice, sugar and phosphoric acid never tasted so good!!!
As I headed back to Austin at the end of a tiring but life affirming day I pulled the Joni Mitchell CD out of the car's player and stuck in the "Best of Cream." Eric Clapton got so much just right. "I Feel Free" and a big Coke. What more could a sweaty rock climber want?
the rock face across the way looks so close but it's hundreds and hundreds of yards away...
that particular boulder is at least twice as tall as me.
man in blue shirt included for scale.
That's the incline. It gets to you after a while. Going up or down...
this part is the crappiest part of the trail. Too much sand and gravel. Nothing solid.
Keens makes great hiking shoes. Love them. Have two pair which I rotate.
This is the new pair.
Have fun out in real life. Don't put stuff off.