Adam Welch Photographist: Blog http://www.aphotographist.com/blog en-us Adam Welch adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) Sat, 18 Nov 2017 06:49:00 GMT Sat, 18 Nov 2017 06:49:00 GMT http://www.aphotographist.com/img/s/v-5/u802321184-o473294362-50.jpg Adam Welch Photographist: Blog http://www.aphotographist.com/blog 80 120 Quiet Beneath the Spruce Tree-A Short Story http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2017/11/quiet-beneath-the-spruce-tree Quiet Beneath the Spruce Tree

By Adam Welch

 

Part 1

 

“No one will ever see them now” he thought. Looking down at the six black plastic film holders sticking up from the green russack at his feet. Each holder held two sheets of film that he’d loaded in his rented room back in Asheville the night before. He had bundled up his clean shirt and pushed it against the crack under the door and jammed his pants at the top with the legs hanging down to block out the light from the lamps in the hallway. He wondered now if whoever found him, if he would ever be found, would know what the holders were and what they held within them. “Such a waste” he muttered as he thought about what could happen to the negatives, his last negatives. His mind wandered to even more unlikely thoughts about how the film might react to being frozen and if it could be thawed out without ruining the emulsion. “Maybe they could be worth something after the story gets out” he said out loud. He gave a slow smile as he realized how different his thoughts were from what he imagined they would be when his time came.  

 

The city was calm and nearly buried in snow. No one else was on Patton street when he set out in the dark that morning except him and his Linhof. He turned left through Pack Square and then onto Market street heading north out of town and into the mountains. There was no sound as the falling snow seemed to drink it all up. All he could hear was the hollow thud of his bag against his back as the contents shifted with his steps. His wool boggin somehow made his hair hurt but he knew it was far too cold to take it off. Everything was packed in that green russack: the six film holders in the worn gray cardboard box, the darkcloth, the Zeiss Jena 135mm, and the Schneider 90mm with the cracked lens board. The filters were kept in their felt pouches inside a frayed manila envelope. His prized Linhof Technika, a faded chamois cloth, and the cable release were all kept wrapped in a cut down wool blanket. The old surveyors tripod he slung over his shoulder in it’s black canvas bag. On the other shoulder he carried a smaller red burlap chow sack with two cans of salted pork, an opener, and a pack of soda crackers. His canteen rested inside the sack on top along with his pipe and tobacco and the pewter match box his sister had given him. He was only going to be gone for the day there wasn’t much need for anything else. No, all that was gone except for the film holders that were now his only company. How they had managed to stay in the bag when he fell through he didn’t know.

 

Part 2

 

“Why did I not cross further down?” he thought. If he had he’d already be back in Johnson City, having probably just developing the last sheet of 4x5 and deciding which ones to print instead of being here under this tree. He sat with his legs out straight beneath the low hanging Spruce branches where he’d managed to drag himself to from the water. Or as straight as the left one would allow as it appeared to have an extra knee now set just below his real knee. He had heard the leg pop during the last roll just before he hit the ice at the bottom of the gorge. His boot had found the ice slicked rocks beneath the snow as he walked along the rim. He remembered the breath being knock from him as he fell. Then he could feel the water on his face and the slow cold as it seeped through his coat and into his shirt. The river was frozen along the bank and held him there for a moment after he landed. The ice gave nothing to hold to and it broke and cracked as he slapped at with his hands to get to shore. He could feel his face burning as the air met his wet skin and the leg, my God the leg. The pain was sharp up to his hip and into the small of his back. He hadn’t seen it yet, the way it just doubled back beneath him as he finally pulled his way onto the snow and righted himself. Standing was too much for him. The leg drug in the snow with the foot twisted round behind it as he tried to push himself up off the ground. He felt himself growing faint and fell back down in a heap. He crawled on his elbows with his fists clenched to his chest towards a small grove of Spruce growing just up the bank.. His hands were already stiff and it was hard for him to move his fingers. After seeing the leg the truth hit him and this truth was more true and certain than anything he’d known before then. It was the truth of knowing all the things he would never do again and more over, the things he would never get to do.

 

Part 3

 

There had been a wedding somewhere in town the night before and the majority of the attendants apparently weren’t ready for the end of the revelries, so they spilled over into the tavern at the corner of Craven and Haywood. It was around 9 o’clock when they burst through the door and up to the bar where he sat nursing his beer. They were loud and still had rice in their hair and on their clothes. One of them had yelled “There’s more to drink still, Marjorie!” to a to a woman who was staggering her way to the bathroom at the rear of the room. He didn’t mind the noise so much as he did the pointlessness of their conversations. Each one of them seemed to have something else to go home to, something else to do that they didn’t truly want to do but would do anyway. “I’m just here to make my photographs” he thought to himself and downed the rest of his beer which was now warm from lingering too long in a held glass.

 

“You’re not leaving are you?” a voice came from behind him. He turned around on the stool and saw three women, or maybe girls, sitting at a small white topped table. One of the them sat in a chair that was much smaller than the other two and he thought immediately how funny this made her look. “I’ve got an early day tomorrow” he said, not knowing which one of the girls had spoken to him. The one in the small chair laughed and then leaned over the table to whisper something to the others. “Then I suppose you better get going” she said with her eyebrows raised. It was right then when he realized she was beautiful. Not beautiful in the way had saw girls in magazines, but more like the feeling he had during sunrises when there was no possible reason to ever look away. She was obviously older than the other two and wore a tan blouse with tiny blue flowers all over it or something like that. Her brown hair was pulled back in a kind of bun with a few strands falling down into her face which she immediately brushed back from her eyes as she looked at him. He noticed a lightness in his stomach and felt his face flush with the excited embarrassment of not knowing what to say to the woman. With an uneasy chuckle he got up from his stool and fumbled into his front pants pocket for a five dollar bill and laid it on the counter. Then he walked his most distinguished walk past their table towards the jukebox which was next to the toilet in back. When he came out he noticed a freshly poured beer sitting on the bar where he had just been. He looked over at the table where the short chair girl sat. She smiled first at him and then cut her eyes quickly over to the beer waiting at the bar, and then back again to meet his. “Like I said, an early day” he told her as he quickly made his way past them and towards the front door. As he pushed the door open he looked back at the short chair girl. She still sat there with her legs crossed smiling at him as the other two girls laughed.

 

Part 4

 

As he walked out into the snow and up Haywood towards his room on Patton street he wondered why he hadn’t stayed. “I could have at least smiled back” he thought.  He had never had a woman buy him anything before let alone a beer. “I could have came up with a thank you if nothing else. What would have been the harm in staying an extra day?” he thought as walked, kicking the snow into little powdery clouds as he went. He didn’t even know if the woman was with that wedding, with all those people who talked so loudly but said nothing worth listening to. “She couldn’t have been...not a woman like that” he thought. A small part of him began to hope that she might live there in town and maybe she would be there at that same tavern at the same table sitting in that same short-legged chair when he got back from the gorge the next evening. He thought about how he would go about thanking her for the beer and buy her one in return. He thought about how he would apologize for just walking out without saying anything. He thought of all the things he would tell her about why he was there and what he was photographing. “Maybe I could come back here and take her out with me next time...if she wanted. I could show her the Linhoff and how it’s all done.” Yes, he would do so much different the next time and who knows what could happen. All the way back to his room he thought about her.

 

Part 5

 

His eyes opened and he realized that he had been asleep although he wasn’t certain for how long. As he looked around about himself in the moonlight he could see the blue snow with the matte glitter sparkling on top of it. The green russack still lay down by his feet, covered now in fresh powder. “It must have snowed” he said to himself even though a part of him knew he hadn’t really said it aloud, only thought it. There was no pain. Just a numbness that made him wonder if this was what death felt like. If it was, then it wasn’t the horror he’d always thought it would be.

 

The cold had robbed him of first his strength, then his pain, and finally his fear. He had stopped trying to eat the snow despite his thirst. It had begun to taste like metal in his mouth as it melted to liquid and seeped down cold against the back of his throat. “Were there no other chairs?” he thought. Then he rested his head back on the tree trunk, closed his eyes, and was still.

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) death fiction life photography short story http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2017/11/quiet-beneath-the-spruce-tree Sat, 18 Nov 2017 04:56:59 GMT
Quitting a job at 6am on a Thursday http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2017/8/quitting-a-job-at-6am-on-a-thursday

I keep getting asked “What are you going to do?” Or even the occasional “Are you going to lose your insurance?” All I’m thinking about now is how it feels like that sensation of  reaching the surface of the water just as your lungs run out of air. Less than an hour left. Less than 60 minutes to bleed off the clock. Hell, I think that’s the same clock that I’ve stared at for nearly twelve years now. Just ticking there on the wall like some clock...on a wall...ticking.

All those questions are ok to ask. Where am I going and why? What will I do? Answering them would be the sane mode for rendering this epitaph of a “successful” run of a “career” in “healthcare”. Sanity, such as it is, has no place in the forgotten progression of human spirit. This growth in spirit or rather, the survival of it, is a good enough reason for leaving.

The message here this morning is this: it’s hate. Hate your job. Hate your standing in life. Bitch about them. Complain about them. Do all the things that people who hate things do. But act. Don’t stop at the identification of the problem. Change the outcome of your own life.

Thirty minutes to go now….

Are you ready for the secret? To change, you’ll have to work harder than you ever imagined possible. There will be a cost. You can lose people. You can lose sleep. You can almost lose yourself. But the cost won’t matter. Find a direction that has a little more light than the others. It might not be a direction you think goes anywhere, and it very well might not. Failure after all, is failure, but it’s not an ending. Things will happen. Shit will go south and walls will be hit head on. None of that matters. What matters is the ability to find it in yourself to not quit at the failure. If you keep going, you can never be stopped.

It’s alright to be afraid. Fear keeps you sharp. Fear wraps you in warm comfort. That’s when you know it’s time to go off on whatever bloodshot run of insanity which will lead to your own success. I won’t lie to you and say that I knew I’d be sitting here one morning about to quit my job in exchange for going off to support myself and a healthy appetite for strong drink just by scribing out words and making photographs. What I did know is that I couldn’t continue on in some stupor of complacency; living quietly among the people who end sentences about their dreams with “maybe one day.”

If you find yourself existing with a forced smile painted across your face while trying to figure out what will make you feel better then you’ve started on the path to that glorious hate; the hate that will lead you home. So, my fellow weary traveler of life, allow me to lend some assurance that anything is possible. Your dreams are possible even if you don’t know exactly what they are yet. You can find the satisfaction that’s missing from everything you do. It will be better than any feeling you can imagine. But you will never get there if you don’t start. Just fucking start.

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) endurance entrepreneur freedom freelance inspiration inspire life live photo photographer photography writer http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2017/8/quitting-a-job-at-6am-on-a-thursday Thu, 03 Aug 2017 16:03:03 GMT
Return to the Laurel-Snow Wilderness: Uno http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/12/return-to-the-laurel-snow-wilderness-part-i I've been here before. Well, really I haven't been...but rather another version of me. But that's another story...or another fucking book. Holy mother of shit that sounds convoluted. Anyway, this is a story of a return to a place which should have killed me. Instead of sending me on into oblivion to Pluto's doorstep, the experience set me onto the path which I find myself peddling right now and the words you yourself find to be reading...funny how these things happen. 

So here we are. Back in the Laurel-Snow wilderness. Tuning along the same familiar road. A lot can happen apparently in the span of two years. Hell, not two years even...but close. New car, new camera, new friends, a whole new by God outlook on life. Damn near a new career. All brought about by this place. Still, I'm glad to be back and breathing unbreathed air in the middle of nowhere. I'm here this time as the result of a secondary contingency. I was supposed to be humping it on the Appalachian Trail for four days but as it seems, acts of God have intervened. Or really, the acts of a morbid few who chose to set fires in the GSMNP...and damn them. In any case, plans had to be cancelled due to the wildfires in the East. My thoughts are still with those suffering as I write this nonsense. 

We make our way to the trailhead; my embosumed friend and I. The friend being my good buddy Spencer, who has been a fellow Dude to me through more than one danger. Really, he might not even know the last story until now(I don't tell you everything olde Cocker). We hike in after an encounter with a comely park employee who was eager to share well intentioned stories of mine ghosts and mountain lions. No doubt, in the hopes of rattling us at the outset of our hike. Fortunately I have looked into the eyes of mountain lions and together, Spencer and I do not rattle easy. So, we thank the gentleman for his insights and continue to collect our gear for the coming three day abscond into the wild. 

The hike in is familiar but not. A kind of deja vu that comes from eating a sandwich from a shit hole burger shack. When I was here last it was colder with an ice storm riding in behind me.

Things just seem different now. In any case, we meander through the switchbacks and overhangs along the river until we find the place where I made camp way back then.

Crossing the still torn down bridge I recall how I thought this might be the end of the line for me. The ice was piling with me searching up and down the river damn near frantic in hopes of a place to cross. I still remember the spot where I knew it was time to put on my ice spikes before attempting to cross.

The entire place feels warm now. Leaves are still hanging with their last breath in the face of winter. There's no snow covering the ground. The breeze feels sweet and there's no need to hurry in making camp so that I don't freeze to death. It was right then when I understood that the poets may...and I do mean fucking may...have been very well right. Time does indeed heal some wounds. Not all...but some. And some is enough for me.

As we venture back from filling our water bottles and set camp I find the tree that I hitched my hammock to during the last round in the Laurel-Snow. It was an odd feeling of return.

That hamburger deja vu I mentioned. I'm glad to be here. Back in the wild. There's another couple days ahead of hiking and lost trails. Of photographs and conversations over pine needle tea. Along with a fair mix of drinking centipedes and lost worry. In anycase, the beginning and return of this story will be infinitely more pleasing than the last time I walked these woods. 

And no, I'm not including a direction to the last time I wrote about this place. 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) backcountry cold hiking photo photography http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/12/return-to-the-laurel-snow-wilderness-part-i Sun, 11 Dec 2016 09:14:08 GMT
On Zen and Salad Bars http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/11/onzenandsaladbars It paigns me to do this...and in turn subject you to such a dastardly opening sentence of this post, but I will refer to a Facebook post that was gifted to me yesterday by a good friend of mine. I say gifted because of the way it illuminated my day after it was read and how it made me think about the course of madness I've taken up to this point. So, really, this shiteating opening paragraph is a direct precipitate of one utterly heart warming share of words left on the fictionary wall of my Facebook. They left me feeling especially fuzzy inside...which is unlikely. But here we are about to talk(briefly) on why it's so important that we as photo makers, camera jockeys, picturateers, photographists, and essentially the photographic homeless come together as our own support structure. Yeah, it's that kind of post today...because I'm a sensitive bastard after all.

I've realized over the last couple of years how wonderfully the internet compliments the visual craft which we find ourselves so completely in love with; the web brings our work to the minds of masses like never before. And over the same couple of years I've learned about the hairy unwaxed underbelly of that same internet that goes unnoticed by so many who get caught up in how great it feels to get "likes" and "shares" which are ultimately hollow nods to the reasons each one of us does what we do. We are brought together through random networkings with like-minded folk who share common passions and I have met so many incredibly gifted photographers in exactly this way. But every now and then something comes along, like the post left on my Facebook this morning, that shakes the dust off our humbleness. It's an understanding that we don't know just how far we reach others with our actions. This ignorance leads to neglect and in the end we cheat ourselves out of the joyful catharsis which I reached this very evening. The idea that my picture works and whatever the hell else I do as a "serious" photographer/author guides the path of others gives me a completely alien sensation of accomplishment. Truly. It's something that satisfies what I figure is a cyclic Zen worthy of making Lao Tzu grin like a tweaked out vegan at an all you can eat salad bar. 

I urge you to look for ways to give your fellow photographers a hearty pat on the ass. Or really, anyone you feel is worth groping in a promotional joining of hands whether they wield a camera or brush or typewriter or pencil...or even if they don't fall into a category but have given you something special along your journey to wherever. Share their website or give them a shoutout. Mention their work to people who will appreciate their love and sacrifice to something they feel so strongly about creating.  Hell, spend a few dollars on a piece of original art if you can to help them feed the monkey. I personally guarantee that it will fortify the person who's work you support and along the way make you feel damn near bulletproof and that you've made a difference. Because you will. 

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) artists encouragement inspiration photography support http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/11/onzenandsaladbars Thu, 24 Nov 2016 02:57:11 GMT
On Inspiration in the World of Photography Or...Why You Should Shut the F*ck Up About It http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/10/on-inspiration-in-the-world-of-photography-or-why-you-should-shut-the-f-ck-up-about-it I think of Hugh Glass. Being there, crawling two hundred miles with a severed scalp hanging from his head. Tasting his own blood. The wounds from the sow grizzly oozing puss. His body broken. Virtually no hope of seeing another sunrise or anything else for that matter. If something kept the man going, I wonder what it truly might have been. Was he inspired by revenge? By the love that clings to our own lives? or by something else? Maybe there was this one whore in Deadwood that smelled really nice? The question was posed to me recently as to what "inspires" me to make "great" photographs and to that end what makes me "use" all these quotation "marks". While I can't prescribe to any real reason as to why I choose to pluck two commas out of a sentence and place them on either end of a sarcastic expletive on the top end...together no less, I do know a little bit about what drives a man to do things. 

Truly, I've found myself facing the wrong end of a mountain lion. And I've been too close for comfort to more than one bear. I can talk about these things on end. But as far as what causes my photographs to come into being I find myself so far at a loss. If I find myself at all....

What appears to me to be the most likely, however, is that I made the photographs regardless of any encumberment. I put myself out there with a camera with the mountain lions and the bears. Now, I've managed to make it thus far with my scalp and the scarce amount of hair attached to it but that isn't what's important here. What's important is that the action found itself fit to be made and I rose to what I saw to be the action. I don't carry many thoughts of inspiration save that which I find in myself. In my own action is the only place to which I look to find any sort of inspiration. Be influenced and driven by the work of others and strive to conquer your own inhibitions through the hard won battles of forlorn heros. But don't look to your heros to hold your trembling hand. 

"Inspiration"(remember they are merely high commas) is the most bullshitted excuse they ever made in order make it alright to copy someone. To make your work seem to be acceptable to others. This is wrong. The most acceptable work you'll ever fucking produce is the work that makes you feel liberated. Notice I didn't say satisfied. I've never been satisfied with any photo I've ever made...nor ever will make. That is my inspiration. That is my Hugh Glass. Don't stop even though you might be crawling with a bleeding scalp and broken body. Never stop. If it suits you then make photographs until the mountain lion takes you. And fuck the bears. 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/10/on-inspiration-in-the-world-of-photography-or-why-you-should-shut-the-f-ck-up-about-it Sun, 16 Oct 2016 06:10:46 GMT
Chicago at 50mm: Ten Photographs http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/4/chicago-at-50mm How many times are we late for an appointment that eventually puts us in front of a bus driver who doesn't see the red light? An hour of oversleeping can make us miss a plane crash. Milliseconds of happenstance building upon themselves and shaping our very lives in a state of constant flux which we hardly perceive. I’m sure that whatever day my father walked into whatever pawnshop was as mundane as any other. He found an old camera bag which contained an aged Nikon 35mm camera and along with it two lenses with a host of other decriped photographic oddities long since past their respective primes. He paid a few dollars for the lot with the hopes his son, a wayward soul with a budding interest in picture taking, would find some interest in the hoard. One of those lenses was this, a 50mm Nikon Ai-S f1.8.


 

This is not a story of technical specificity so please relax your sphincters. It is instead a documentation of the result of the otherwise unknown twenty-five year path the lens took to reach me. It is a reminder to those who think they need the latest and greatest gear. I wonder how many missed alarms it’s taken for you to find these very words….

 

Anyway, on a recent trip to Chicago I decided to bring only one camera and only one lens. The camera: a Sony A7r Mk1. The Lens: the Nikkor 50mm f1.8. The thing to understand about this lens is that it is completely manual. Meaning it is nothing but high grade glass and finely tunes metals. No electronics. The weird little thing sticking up from the top is where a light meter could be mounted in the days before electronic auto metering. It is mated to the modern camera body by means of an adapter(Commlite), well, two adapters really since I first used this with my Canon. It is Frankensteinish configuration of old and new. The people who manufactured the lens never knew what kind of tech it would eventually be forced to accommodate.

 

 

The camera and lens combo followed me around Chitown and fired away at the various instances that needed to be photographed. I have no love for cities yet Chicago has always welcomed me. I understand this city. It carries an odd invitation that can’t quite be labeled as alluring but certainly has all the ingredients. Here is a selection of images made while wandering there.


Here I see the city from Navy Pier. One of the first photos I made of the buildings while a taste of brooding weather approaches.

Reflections....

The lighthouse in Chicago Harbor.

This another aspect of the city from Millennium Park. Just down from "The Bean"(no photos of the bean because it's fucking overrated).

The tunnels and underpasses around Chicago are a completely different world. Grunging and dirty, beautiful and seldom seen, the disfortunate call these places their own. 

Bubbles on the bridge. 

From across Lakeshore Drive on my last morning in the city. 

The trees from a park close to Navy Pier. 

Literally almost ran into a race after I rounded a corner.

The last image I shot in Chicago with the 50mm. What I assume to be a mother and daughter on their way to somewhere in the city. 

These are photographs made using an old lens on a new camera by a man in an unlikely place. 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) a7r blackandwhite chicago cities city explore nikon photo photography sony street wandering http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/4/chicago-at-50mm Sun, 10 Apr 2016 23:09:42 GMT
Return of the Iceman: Roan Highlands-Part III 1/3 http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/2/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-part-iii-1/3 ...then stillness.

Time and space seemed to transition in an instant. I lost consciousness to the drumming of the wind at some point last night. I remember the noise. It might be somewhat alien to you...sitting there now, reading this. But I can tell you it was something I will never forget...that sound coming up the ridge to meet me. Which was fine then. But now I'm awake and it's time to leave my perch on Grassy Ridge. Damn it. 

There's snow everywhere inside the tent which comes as somewhat of a surprise to me.

I had thought the cold precipitation was just the internal weather of my tent. Yet in fact it was wind blown snow that was accumulating during my brief and accosted slumber. It's cold now. It's the kind of coldness that freezes things solid yet at the time it didn't really matter much. I simply put on my clothes while attempting to decipher how exactly I was supposed to pack up the tent if the stakes were frozen in the ground. On top of that, I wasn't certain I wanted to take off the second layer of long johns...but how would my pants fit over them if I did not? Immediately the idea crossed my blurry brain to just hoof it back to Hank(my truck's name is Hank if you didn't know) sporting nothing but the thermals. These thoughts faded once I realized that I could in fact wriggle into the pants even with my additional layers. Admittedly though, it would have been epic as hell. 

Later I would learn that the air dropping into my lungs measures somewhere around 0 degrees when I ventured outside to inspect the current situation. Apparently it had kept snowing during the night but the skies were now crystal. The sun was warming and the wind had finally stopped. Everything was just still now. I debated coffee but decided against the idea. It was just too cold and my hands were already numb. I still have to pack up the tent and gear up for the hike out. I can see tracks on the trail to my right so I know that other brave souls had already made their way along the AT which meant it was passable. 

I go back inside the tent and start knocking snow off my gear. I fish around for my contact lens case so I can put in my eyeballs. It had previously came up in conversation with more normal people about how exactly I keep my water from freezing during trips like this. I always give the same old answer about how I keep it in my sleeping bag and molest it during the night. "But what about your contacts?" is generally the next question. Well, I keep those in there too...usually.

But not this time. I just put them next to me on the floor. This made for the first time I've ever had to thaw out my contacts which were by now quite frozen. So I put the case in my pants pocket to thaw while I fumbled about with rubber fingers trying to pack everything up. I gnaw on a frozen protein bar and before I know it there's nothing left in the tent but me and my pack. Here comes the part I've been dreading. It's time to pack up the old reliable tent. I dig around the base to locate the stakes and sure enough they're frozen into the ground...and of course I've double staked them...remember? Fortunately, a couple of good yanks(haha) and they finally come loose with a satisfying metallic ringing. I managed to only lose one stake in the process which still nearly drove me to tears. It remains somewhere up there on the ridge...feeling abandoned and wondering why it wasn't as good as the other stakes or what it could have done differently. Meanwhile, I've spent a fortune on therapy for the stakes that did make it out. They suffer tremendous survivor's guilt over the fact they left a man behind. One of them has fallen into a depression and doesn't even go out with the other stakes anymore. Most of the others now drink heavily to mask the pain. Camping is hell. 

I take a few moments to breathe in the view before making ready to meander down the bald.

It's only a two mile hike out but I'm not entirely certain how difficult it may be due to the ice. Before the weather moved in two days ago the trail was already questionable in places. Adam is still kicking himself because Adam didn't bring Adam's ice gear.

I start back south. The morning is beautiful on the AT and the balds are snowy and cold. It's a magnificent sight which makes me stop at each summit just to appreciate the scene.

Winter has a vibe all its own in the Appalachians. The snow smears on contrasts that you don't see in the spring or even during the fall. As I make my way along I begin to warm up. The descents are sporty. There are stretches of the trail with only about an inch of snow on top of the ice which makes traction a gamble at best.

I negotiate the passing using my tripod as a walking stick. Manfrotto makes one king hell bastard of a tripod(no, I'm not getting paid to say that). I encounter a portion of steep downhill that I'm fairly confident to be an ass-busting certainty. Briefly I go off-trail to detour and instantly sink down nearly mid-shin in the fresh powder. 

It's around 11 AM when the trail makes its approach on the backside of Round Top. I can make out the outlines of a couple of hikers out for a morning stroll at the top of the bald. They are just two little black specs creeping along in the snow. As I walk towards them I stop and give them the road on the down hill. We talk briefly about the trail conditions ahead before I continue on up to the summit. No longer than it's been and it's still odd seeing people again. It's only been two days since I last spoke to anyone but it feels weird nonetheless. I encounter quite a few more people at the summit and exchange more words. It occurs to me in mid-conversation that I must be somewhat of a decrepit sight. I've got the shemagh pulled tight over my face which is now frozen solid from my breath.  When they hear that I've been out for three days their reaction is the look of "are you fucking crazy" which I commonly receive. We talk for a few minutes more and then we all go in our respective directions. As I drop back into the wooded area of evergreens I make a few exposures as I go but really just enjoy the quietness. The snow covered trees absorb most any sound before it reaches me. It's sensory deprivation and sensory overload at the same time. 

As I make the final walk back towards the parking area I spy old Hank waiting for me. The wintery weather has left him enclosed in a frosty casing of ice.

I shed my pack and break open the driver's door to crank up and let everything unthaw while I change clothes. Just as I was getting out my clean duds a fellow hiker approaches me and asks for a lift for him and his friends back into town. I unfortunately have no room in the single cab for three more people. We stalked for a minute and I learn he and his buddies are southbound thru-hikers. I insist on shaking his hand. I offer my respect and ask his name. Socrates, I hope you and your compadres made it to Springer. 

I head to the bathroom to change and fill up my water bottle at the spring just behind the lot. I feel like a new person after getting into some fresh clothes. Walking back to the truck, I encounter the same group that I spoke with at the summit of Round Top. I say hello again but realize they don't even recognize me now since I've changed which gives me somewhat of a neurotically audible chuckle. The thermometer on the trail information sign reads 2F. 

The trip into Roan has been a great one. I was there to test myself and I have. I wanted to photograph and I did. The transcendent joy which comes from these kind of excursions, at least for me, is the revival of spirit. It makes surviving back in the world a little more liveable. The volume gets turned down on the meaningless and empowers a person to let that which does not matter truly slide. I try to be thankful for what I have a little more than I was before I left and to remain a Moose amongst men.

These are my thoughts as I wheel downhill in the shadow of the mountain. Quiet thoughts. Enlightened thoughts.... 

...still moving faster than I should. 

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) backcountry camping hike hiking photo photography winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/2/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-part-iii-1/3 Sun, 21 Feb 2016 11:31:43 GMT
Return of the Iceman: Roan Highlands-Part III http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/2/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-part-iii I always drape the shemagh over my face each cold night before I pass out. The reason for this is to prevent the assured "ice face" syndrome. As such, when I wake up on this second morning in the Roan Highlands, it is a dull green glow that greets my eyes. I've learned that in extreme cold weather the interior of my tent develops it's own weather pattern. The warm air which I tend to exhale rises and then condensates on the rainfly causing the occasional internal downpour. When the temps drop further, the condensation freezes. Add in a little wind and the frost falls inside as a nice shower of Moose-made snow.

It's cold but not overly. I'd hazard somewhere in the teens with the dense stillness of a snowy morning. I can see a shadowed border around the outside base of my tent and snow splotches covering the top. I shuffle off my sleeping bag coil and fumble around for my water which was placed at the bottom of my cocoon to prevent freezing the night before. I'm an isobutane man when it comes to stove fuel so I grope further to find my canister. You have to keep this kind of fuel reasonably warm for it to render aerosol so it slept snugly alongside my left ass cheek for the glorious ten hour slumber from which I find myself currently revived. In a few minutes I have my coffee going and a semblance of warmth begins to creep into my humble home on Grassy Ridge.

Breakfast will be glorious on this trip because I have decided to pack in a hearty portion of bacon. I make ready to enjoy some bacon tacos...because bacon...and because tacos. I forego chewing because I don't need any type of mechanical intermediary coming between me and my happiness. I decide to charge up my camera whilst I read a while and get the day's kit together.

Juicing up the camera...

...and myself. 

Mother of God....

After putting in my eyeballs I decide it's high time to venture out into the snow. I gear up and head out of the tent straight into a world that has been transformed literally overnight. I find myself being the solitary human in a black and white photograph with my tent alone being the only signpost of color on an otherwise gray washed canvas.

The sky is a soupy gray-yellow overcast with the sun remaining as a hotspot behind a perpetual wall of clouds. It's eerie. The snow is falling in clumps. I'm somewhat surprised at the lack of wind but it won't last. My goal for the day is to photograph the area in it's winter shag which I haven't often saw attempted.

I make my way along Grassy Ridge through a patch of bare Rhododendron. The snow is still falling and the wind picks up gradually as I leave the cover of the undergrowth.

When I reach the bald proper, conditions are nearly white-out. The wind is absolutely howling and I can't tell the difference between the snow boiling up from the ground and snow falling from the sky. There's still no readily locatable sun. The diffuse light produces a fairly opaque tone to the few objects around me with the visibility limited to only a few dozen yards. The trees are just phantoms appearing and then disappearing with each gust of wind. The AT vanishes into the white in front of me and I can't help but think that I could just keep walking to Maine. Katahdin is about 1,200 miles to the North.

As I turn around to head back down I audibly mutter "one of these days." One of these days indeed....

By the time I make it back to camp it's getting cold. Not the kind of cold where you can just keep moving or shake it off. This is approaching the "oh fuck" kind of cold where exposed skin freezes. The wind is beginning to make my eyelashes freeze together unless I blink quite a bit. I decide to make one quick run back down the trail to the south in the hopes of catching a break in the clouds but no luck. I make a few exposures before my battery dies. I've been keeping the batteries in my pocket and loading them before each use to save power but this time it's not helping. It's time to head back and button down. Once back to camp I make a judgment call to double stake my tent. I knew the forecast was calling for winds upwards of 35 mph and one stake just wasn't going to cut the mustard this time. After making the rain fly secure I dive head first into the tent's relative warmness. The wind is already slapping against the walls with enough force that for once I begin to doubt the ability of it to withstand the wintery anvil that is already bearing down on me. It's around 6pm.

The nights meal is chicken alfredo-not and some tortillas. The wind is bad now. I've had to move the stove and cooking pot right up close to me because with every gust the sides of the tent buckle in so far that it comes close to tipping the entire enterprise over. I wasn't in the mood to lick cheap noodles from Wal-Mart off the frozen floor...even if it is cooked in jerky water(hehe every time...). One of my gloves serves as a pot holder. I wasn't prepared for just how creepy such an appliance might appear. 

By the time I finish off the chow the wind has become incredibly strong. I feel a mix of anxiety and pride at the punishment my tent has withstood so far. It's the only small tent I've ever owned and I purchased way back in 2009 for my first solo backcountry trip. Thanks little guy, how far we've come.

I pull on my second pair of long johns as well as my heavy gloves before burrowing down into my sleep sack. It's still relatively early so I decide to read for a while. I break out my copy of "The Tao of the Dude" in an attempt to channel a little relaxation into my mind. By now, the wind is By God ridiculous. What made it worse were the calms when there was absolutely no sound. Then I could hear it coming. The sound started like a ringing in your ear before graduating to something like the noise a waterfall makes as it impacts earth. Then it would hit.... And friends, let me admit now, it was terrible. The entire structure would strain down nearly to my face with a rattling sound of ripping cloth and clapping hands(the best I could come up with). It's a an odd feeling realizing you are completely helpless and literally at the mercy of your gear. I was glad for double staking the poles earlier that day but this was the extent of my preparations. All I could think about was that if anything did give way I would still have some cover inside the tent which would then be nothing more than a thin blanket of vinyl and mesh. I figured I could wrap myself up in it enough so that I wouldn't freeze to death and just leave the tent the next.... "calm the fuck down,boy!" my inner Moose screams out to my outer man. Worrying isn't doing any good. So, newly shaken out of an episode of pussitude, I decide the best course is to just sleep. I slide the book under some clothes and cover my camera gear to protect it from the snow that's now blowing in from beneath the sides of the tent. I switch off my headlamp and tuck myself in for the night. The wind keeps going. The overall conditions were an amazingly hellish assault on on my senses. I would later learn that the wind topped out somewhere around 40 mph at my location with an estimated low of -10F. I flash on my headlamp one last time to make sure the cross poles of the tent were still there before I nodded off.

Laying there alone in the cold blackness and the deafening rage of the wind, I feel a contentment that generally eludes me back in the world. It's a sort of self awareness which finds you after you've done all you can do. Lights out.

I really hoped I wouldn't die.

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) Carolina Lebowski Tennessee backcountry backpacking camping cold hiking ice photo photography snow taoism wilderness winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/2/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-part-iii Tue, 09 Feb 2016 12:41:31 GMT
Return of the Iceman: Roan Highlands-Part II http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/1/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-part-ii I have a small decision to make. Well, rather a choice to extract from three possible options that will ultimately dictate the outcome of this particular trip. The first choice is to quietly sob in the face of my own stupidity for hiking nearly three miles in the complete wrong direction. The second, is to simply accept my circumstances, make camp somewhere in the general vicinity, and hope that I can salvage some type of photographic opportunity yet fall short of my original goal of imaging the Highlands in their full winter shag. Then there is door number three...I can turn around, go back the way I came despite a looming sunset, and hope I can make the five mile hike to Grassy Ridge before night brings on the single digit temperatures so colorfully referenced in part one. The first two options are fine scenarios..."safe bets" as the fellar says, and they are fit for those who want to blissfully make the "best" of an unfortunate situation. That third choice, however, is one for those who blow past gas stations on empty tanks with their middle fingers waved high...the types who possess the can-do attitude of George By God Washington and cross frozen rivers just to murder you in your bed on Christmas morning. A bold choice fit for men of true grit...and I am chocked full of that, man. 

So, at a pace that would make Forrest Gump weep into his sixteenth Dr. Pepper, I set off back down the trail. I glance at my watch and see that I have about two and half hours until the 5:37PM sunset. I know that I will be cutting it close to get there without having to set up my tent in the dark. I put this thought out of my mind and start thinking about good things...you know...cheese, The Big Lebowski, Sam Adams, and this song by Massive Attack that I mistakenly listed to on the drive in that morning. In any case I am thundering down the trail. I mentally acknowledged that I am probably going a little too fast for this heavy of a pack on this much ice. With every step I expect the Earth to betray me and send both me and my gear crashing to the ground in a cloud of snow and overt profanity. Boldly enough, I maintain. 

I'm back at the parking area before I know it and take the opportunity to top off my small water bottle at one of the springs there.

Then I find myself back on the AT, going the correct way this time where I should have been four hours prior. Admittedly, I am slightly tired. Which was expected considering the near jog but nonetheless unwelcomed. I begin climbing the first bald which is called Round Top.

It's not long before I enter the patch of evergreen forest described by previous hikers of the trail. It's absolutely gorgeous but I can't stop. I punch out of the tree line. Ahead of me is a winding climb up to Round Top. Jane Bald will be next, and Grassy Ridge after that. I am not entirely looking forward to the trek. The land is ruggedly beautiful with lots of breathing room. This lightens my heart as I descend towards Jane. 

Looking back from the apex of Round Top, I can see just how high I had climbed in error before realizing my mistake. 

I take a quick breather before starting up the trail to the summit. I'm in the bottom of the draw here and out of the wind which has already began to pick up ahead of the coming snow. I start up the trail and it's not long before I hit the ice. This makes the going slow...too slow.

I'm beginning to wonder if Grassy Ridge bald will even be possible before sundown. It's already around 4:45PM. I lumber up to the peak at Jane and see the trail dip down and then continue to creep up to the next bald which is my target, Grassy Ridge. Upon seeing the way so tortuously laid before me, crew morale hits a brief and unfortunate low.

Real low.

I hike as fast as I can though admittedly fatigue was settling into my legs. The wind seemed to be pushing my back down the mountain with each step. As I top out on Grassy, I look west to behold one of the more impressive sunset's which I never photographed. There's simply no time. So I just take a quick snapshot as I push towards the top.

Along here I encounter one of the rare humans I see during the trip. We converse for a few minutes and he tells me that he is there for the night also but staying a little further down than I intend to make camp. The approaching weather is obviously the subject of conversation. I couldn't help but notice the general look of "are you fucking crazy?" when I tell him of my plans to remain on the ridge the following night as well. And that's cool...that's cool. 

I'm in a rush now. Rushing goes against my inherent nature but this time I have no choice. The wind has completely numbed my hands and all that remains of the sun is a soft yellow glow beneath the mist a few thousand feet below. I seek out a relatively level spot and shuck off my pack. 

I'm glad to discover that the ground is, well...grassy, and will offer a lot of cushion for my large person to rest easy inside my tent. I set myself to literally throwing up my shelter. My fingers are just phantom appendages now and I fumble everything. The wind makes this situation a little complicated and I resort to throwing my pack inside the tent and then erecting the walls around it in order to keep the damn thing on the ground. First the mesh, now the fly, then the stakes. With the whole structure relatively secure, I dive in and zip down. I'm instantly warmer. It's virtually dark inside so I source my headlamp and then my heavy gloves. It's hard to describe how much relief washed over me then, knowing that I had reached my objective and was relatively comfortable after such a king hell bastard of a mistake made earlier in the day. 

First night's chow is bacon macaroni stewed in my ever famous jerky water(hehe jerky water) sopped with tortillas.

I damn near slip into a coma. "Not yet" myself says to me. I stick my taboggan-clad head outside the tent and notice the mist from the hike in is still hanging heavy in the valley below. My body screams for sleep but after all, I'm here to do this whole picture "thing", and now is a good a time as any. I wrestle on some clothes and ooze out of my shelter. I make a few exposures of the scene before me and then of my camp itself. The skies above the mist and behind me are still crystal clear. The stars are bright and countless. Every now and then the wind stops leaving me in complete silence. A genuine kind of silence that's only found when you have quite literally risen above all else and find yourself alone. The air is fresh and cold. Right there, regardless of all else that might happen, I understood that I was completely right to come here. 

I slide back into the sleeping bag and tie down for a long snooze. I have been awake for twenty-nine hours. It's not much past 9PM when I hear the slow yet steady peck of sleet on the side of the vinyl. It marks the beginning of the forecast winter precipitation scheduled for that evening. It's a welcomed sound because this is why I have come here after all. I'm ready.

For now I'm warm and content. The weather outside is about to transform the land. It's going to get bad...real bad. 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) Carolina North Tennessee backcountry backpacking camping cold hiking ice photo photography snow wilderness winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/1/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-part-ii Sun, 24 Jan 2016 22:11:40 GMT
Return of the Iceman: Roan Highlands-Part I http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/1/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-pt-1 I love maps. They tell you everything; where you are, where you're going, where you've been, how far you've come, and how far you have to go. I fucking love them. The opinion is one brought about by having saved my own ass once just by having a map. I always carry a map with me on the trail. But not this time. Keep that in mind. 

My blood has always been too thick for the heat. I can tolerate it and function to a high degree in the summer months, but it's not my favorite. This is the reason why winter always sparks a need to go farther and operate in ball shattering temperatures. Soviet Union temperatures that that extend the limits of a regular man and his gear. This is where I found myself for three days in the midst of January. Three days of glory in the Roan Highlands when I remembered the complex exhilaration that arises from truly not knowing how you will persuade life to cling to your ass while you sleep. 

The Roan Highlands are a wonder of natural beautitude that stretch through the area of the Appalachians which straddle the junction of the east Tennessee and North Carolina state lines in the Pisgah National Forest. Here it is said that the Appalachian Trail is at it's most gorgeous and impacting. My goal is a three day perambulation from Carver's Gap to a place called Grassy Ridge Bald. And "balds", in the parlance of or times...refers to a mountain which is virtually devoid of forestation...bald mountains...see, we're using words. In any case, it was a place I had never been and I was determined to make the most of the coming winter scenery that will be brought about by the welcomed forecast of four inches of snow, zero degree lows, and 40+ mph winds. Because that's how photographs are made. 

I set out early into the darkness from my house in west Tennessee and boomed eastward down I-40.

 Arriving at Carver's Gap around 11am, I see that the area has already had a healthy dose of winter the night prior.

I had read that the AT crossed the road and that the trail to the balds began in an old growth alpine forest. I see the trees and then I'm off on the trail.

I'm having to take in my own water this time so the pack is feeling the firm clinch of gravity. It's already gorgeous and it feels outstanding to have my boots back on the AT after so long. I make my way through the snow and ice with a feeling of general euphoria that is usually brought about by the comforting orange glow of the "Hot n' Ready" sign at Krispy Kreme or when someone asks me to finish their beer. The sun is shining like little white lasers between the trees making teardrop shaped points on the snow.

There's a low hanging mist that makes the air seem exceptionally still. It's cold but not too cold, maybe around 28-30 degrees. I notice three or four sets of footprints but it's not long before that number dwindles to two, and then one, and then fresh powder and ice.

 

"Adam, aren't you bringing your ice gear on this trip???" Me: Fuck no....

I'm alone on the AT and it's wonderful. I make my way along to my predetermined camp destination at Grassy Ridge which sits at a prominent 6,165 feet above the ocean. I want to reach the Ridge, make camp, and then strike out to take in the sunset around the peaks with my camera before the real weather moves in for the night. 

As I move through the mist and the ice and the snow, I think about all the feet that have carried hikers north and south and back again.

Thru hikers who are either feeling the strain of the trail on their way from Springer Mountain in Georgia or the absolute joy of knowing their epic journey from Katahdin is nearing an end. In any case, my mind was occupied with lofty thoughts of pride of sharing the trail and it's beauty with fellow dirt bags. You know, deep thinking kind of shit that clutters the minds of the philosophically predisposed and those who are waiting in line at Wal-Mart. It's fantastic and I'm lost in the walk.  I notice where a small mishap must have happened on the trail...

I pause to make a few exposures but generally don't stop too often because I'm wanting to make camp fast. I finally come out from the trees to a beautiful open spot of fresh snow and blowing mist. The sun warms my face as I make my way along to find my stopping point and make camp. I find it not too long afterward. I'm glad too, because the sun has began it's depressive drop into evening and I know it'll be cold soon. It is here, standing alone in the blowing snow in early afternoon in a place I've never been, I realize a fact of marginal importance....

I've been going the wrong direction this whole time.

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) backcountry cold hiking photo photography winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2016/1/return-of-the-iceman-roan-highlands-pt-1 Tue, 19 Jan 2016 20:02:59 GMT
Taking it Easy: A Dudeist Approach to Photography http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/12/taking-it-easy-a-dudeist-approach-to-photography Throughout history there have been individuals who found a certain magic in simply “taking it easy”. Ben Franklin, Lao Tzu, Hunter S. Thompson, Janis Joplin, Bill Murray, Albert Einstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, and The Dude himself...just to name a few. These people impacted lives and arguably changed the world in ways that wayward photography writers are no doubt still writing about today. And they did it by being perceivably carefree about some of the things that most of us would take extraordinarily seriously.

 

What does any of this have to do with photography? As it turns out, quite a bit.

 

Often enough, the biggest hurdle you must overcome is yourself. In anything. On the track to achieving any measure of success through your picture work there are few obstacles more blindly overlooked than our own self pity, our own worries, our own fear. In the parlance of our times...we simply take ourselves too seriously. Over emphasis on what others will think about our work or how we might be viewed by other photographers can cause us to get nervous or get uptight and even cause us to make photographs merely to please what is the going normal for pictures.

To borrow from the Dudeist philosophical model which in turn borrows heavily from Taoism, our cups are too full. Meaning that we can sometimes bog ourselves down with so many useless cares about what we are doing that we simply leave no room for the things that matter. Essentially, we close ourselves off to the self enlightenment and gratification that comes from merely doing the work.

We should approach the process of making photographs with a child-like enthusiasm. Child-like...not childish. You don’t hear much about childish photographers. Instead, be completely open and receptive to new ways to shoot a particular scene. Don’t make photographs based merely on what’s popular on Instagram or Facebook. If you’re liking a certain look of another photographer's work, fine! Learn how it was done and start making images of your own. But never copy, emulate, or otherwise compromise what you feel just because it doesn’t fit into a specific hashtag.

Relax. Mr. Bill By God Murray himself said that “you’re better at everything when you’re relaxed.” This is what you should always remember(and I constantly remind myself) about anything you do especially when it comes to your photography. Just relax and lose yourself in the work that you love. Don’t think about what your friends, followers, curators, or even editors will think. And believe me, I know what you’re probably thinking: “But Adam, I can’t make a living by just doing what I want...asshole.” Well, the fact is...you don’t want it bad enough. Yeah, you don’t. If you truly want it, and I mean beyond anything else, you will find a way. That way might not be what you always imagined it would be, but it’s out there. Trust me. Just do what you do, and as George Carlin would say, “Always do what comes next.”

Now, one thing to ALWAYS keep in mind if you do decide to stop taking yourself so seriously and let things happen…”be the ball” as a certain golf pro might say, is don’t be stupid and stop taking the work seriously. There’s no use in sitting on the bench if you’re not ready to play. You have to be ready. Being ready means knowing your shit. It means learning absolutely everything you can about making a photograph. Be humble, take it easy, don’t get discouraged, but...always approach your photograph with a mentality that you will make it the best that YOU can make it to fit what YOU want. Refer to the part about the difference between child-like and child-ish.

The path to success in photo making also requires one key realization and it’s an unfortunate one. You have to know that you will likely fail along the way but realize that it is not time wasted...it’s time invested. Understand that fact and then prepare yourself to get back on that horse and keep going. Sometimes you will have to say “Fuck it, man. Can’t be worried about that shit. Life goes on, man.” And then just do what comes next.

The Dude Abides

 
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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) Lebowski art photo photography relax take it easy taoism technique http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/12/taking-it-easy-a-dudeist-approach-to-photography Sat, 26 Dec 2015 16:22:14 GMT
On Cameras.... http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/11/on-cameras I receive a fair amount of questions. Questions about hikes, beer, how to throw tomahawks...why I'm called Moose(you know you want to know). Mostly though, as a recent result of my new found semi-professionalism in the photography world I find myself answering more and more questions concerning lenses, techniques, and most often...cameras. And I'll tell you a secret right off the bat; I genuinely enjoy answering the questions. More often than not I am perpetually humbled by the evidently massive reach that my writing has travelled around the world. Thailand, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, India...everywhere the fingers of the internet tend to fondle. I take all the queries seriously and try to help as best as I'm able. So, when I receive the most common question of all, I feel somewhat at a loss. No it's not the Moose thing.... 

Without a doubt, the most prolific question I hear is "Which camera should I get?" This is something that is altogether impossible and fairly frustrating to answer. It's like trying to tell someone who they are and that's not the business I'm in. Maybe frustrating shouldn't be the word to use. Frustrated implies I'm not willing to help and that's not the case. Self absorbed assholes aren't willing to help and hopefully I am not one of those...hopefully...hopefully. Helpless would fit better. I feel helpless to express any words that would make the wayward camera seeker understand that the camera is not the weak link that makes or breaks their photographic chain.

While it's true that the majority of professional photogs who make money from their work do have to use higher end tools it's most certainly not a maxim to live by. We have the brave new world of digital imaging to thank for that. Camera phones today have high-grade glass and image sensors that would beat some of the best dslr's from ten years ago. People now manage to make their living using nothing but their iPhone and Instagram. Photographs are made and played with faster than a hipster can woof down a vegan taco...but I digress. I'll digress again to point out I used the word "hipster", "taco", "photographs" , and "vegan" in one beautifully constructed sentence; a sentence meant to ease you onto the ice cold toilet seat of my main point and one simple yet undigestable truth: there simply are no bad cameras anymore. 

Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Sigma, Hasselblad, Leica, Mamiya, Pentax. Those are ten camera manufacturers I plucked from my partly handsome head just now. From those ten you can choose from: point and shoot, rangefinder, dslr, mirrorless, micro four-thirds, medium format digital, full-frame digital, and APs-c flavors. 

Much more important to the shooter, in my opinion, is not what kind of camera they should use but rather the knowledge they should have about their cameras. Finding the camera that is right for you comes down to knowing yourself and your goals. Do you really need a 36.4 full frame sensor? If you're a general landscape shooter like me, then yes, you might have a need for that much resolution which is why my camera brandishes such a sensor. If I were a street photographer or sports photographer I probably would have went with another camera because mine has less than speedy autofocus.  The same goes for wedding shooters and portraiteers. The biggest problem in my eyes is that the tool gets a much too exaggerated piece of the quality pie. It is in fact the maker how wields the tool that is the deciding factor. No piece of gear will carry you into photographic ledgendaryism just as no amount of skill will compensate for lacking the correct gear for a job. Your camera should be a vessel to convey what you see and not something to compensate for haste of learning. 

So, "a good camera" is not hard to find. Identifying your own needs as a photographer is the damnable hard part about buying a camera. Know yourself, know your needs, know your expectations. 

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/11/on-cameras Wed, 25 Nov 2015 02:19:40 GMT
To Greenbrier and Back Again: Part II http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/8/to-greenbrier-and-back-again-part-ii

I wake up with the jolted spring of a man who has passed out inside of an all-night Dairy Queen...the half groggy half-awakeness that usually comes after a long needed sleep. What did I just hear? There it is again...a kind of hurried gallop and the sound is coming from my left just outside the view from beneath my tarp. I begin to slowly regain my normal(normal for me) consciousness and attempt to focus my reluctant eyes. It's the sound of an obvious living creature that seems to be circling around our camp. It's the low thump of hooves meeting Earth. Seeing how I know that the elusive Appalachian Miniature Zebra is in hibernation this time of year, I assume the origin of the sound must be from a deer which has wandered it's way into our midst.

Fun fact: Without my contacts or glasses I am reasonably blind. I have my glasses stashed in my bag hanging from my hammock which unfortunately is on the outside of my bug net which is secured by an incredibly audible zipper. AT THE TIME...I was naturally under the assumption that any sign of life in camp would spook the deer which is now just standing in the middle of our hammock village. My friend's hammock is directly across the middle of camp so after sneaking a few sneaky photos sneakily I have the sneaking suspicion that my buddy might want to see this deer up close. So, in my shittiest attempt at a whisper ever, I rasp out a few callings of my friends name. This apparently doesn't startle the eight point buck who is still munching away at the grass not ten feet from the foot of Spencer's hammock. So after a reasonable time of watching the animal meander around us I decide that I need coffee. I unzip the mesh and pounce onto the ground and into my shoes.

 

When I emerge from beneath my tarp I encounter something unexpected. There stands the deer...there stands me. We're both just standing there. He didn't run away or even act startled. It comes to me suddenly that either this deer is so used to people (which is unlikely due to the remote location) that he doesn't feel threatened or, more than likely, we are possibly the only humans he has encountered. That being said, it is also very possible that he identified me as being a lower form of animal, and by association so too my accompaniment. It is this latter probability which I choose to believe and thusly use as the foundation for the remainder of the story about Rick. Yes, he told me his name was Rick. So, there we sit in the mid day sun drinking coffee and eating jerky with Rick the deer...esquire.

 

Spencer accepting Rick's petition to join our group....

After a reasonable time, Rick parts company and we break camp. We decide to continue on to the terminus of the Grapeyard Ridge trail. Grapeyard ends at the Roaring Fork Motor Nature trail so we travel light and make no real plans beyond that point aside from just making it to the end.

The last 4.4 miles of Grapeyard was similar to the first 3.2. Creek crossings separated with lush green and dotted here and yon with the remains of bygone homesteads. There are some more steep climbs and a few down hills which we welcome at first until we remember that the downgrades here will be the uphill climbs on our trek back to camp. These ill thoughts disappear like cheese at a ham convention when we began hearing the first sounds of the river from which the Roaring Fork MNT owes it's name. Finally we've made it to at least our tentative destination. We hit a small connector trail which hugs the banks of Roaring Fork. Guess why they call this river "Roaring Fork"? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? That's right, because it roars. It's course carves in between relatively large boulders that have all but been swallowed up by thick yellow-green moss. It is truly one of my favorite waterways in the Smokies. We don't go far before Spencer notices a spot to make our way down to the water. After wrangling ourselves down, we come upon a glorious deep water hole just below a pristine small fall. It even has a huge rock for us to rest our soggy asses and dry out our clothes. It doesn't take long for me to decide I might as well use this opportunity to get a couple more additions to the Underfalls Project. And that's what I do.

 

 

 

After reclaiming my testicles from the icy grip of the brisk mountain water I make a few underwater images from beneath the falls as best I can. We decide that there's simply nothing for us any further down the trail and that this will be as far as we need to go. We eat a little chow and then go for one more dive in the falls. We dry out and then gear up. It's back up the trail and the over the hills back to camp. Night is coming quick so we don't delay. My good buddy Spencer is first back to camp and he is already well into making a fire by the time I arrive back at the site. After some cheddar bacon noodles cooked in my signature jerky water the fire is fueled with our remaining firewood. The last night in camp is usually the best. True, it's more often than not tempered with an overtone of melancholy from the realization that I must soon rejoin the world. What makes it so great is that if all has gone to plan during the trip there is usually a surplus of food that must be eaten in the name of "lightening the packs". The last of the chow is torn through the way people in the middle of nowhere do after hiking ten miles and suddenly have no reason to ration their food stores. Fine times.

 

 

 

"...Welch." I hear Spencer say in a low whisper(a legit whisper) but the tone catches my attention. "I hear voices." Immediately I'm on my feet make my way to Spencer's shelter. There's no moon and I don't turn on my headlamp given the circumstances. My buddy relays to me that he can hear what sounds like footsteps on the trail directly behind our camp...and what's more, he heard something that sounded like hushed talk as well. At this point, I'm in a "guarded state of alarm." There's no moon. So we sit there, he in his hammock and me crouched on the ground. We listen. Then I hear it too. The low sound of footsteps and they're close. We come to the conclusion that it's simply too dark for someone to be making their way in the night with no illumination. Since we've saw no lights I'm almost certain that the chance of this being a human is quite slim. Still...I'm not going to sit here the rest of the night with the lingering thought that this is the one backcountry trip when I encounter that crazed mental patient who escaped the asylum. There's simply nothing for it...I have to know.

I inform Spencer of my intent to shift around to the back side of his tarp and spotlight the trail to see what's what. As I stand up in the darkness I can still hear the sound of something but I don't know what...and that is just the situation. With my hand on my headlamp I take a deep breath and then hit the flood light....

 

Wait for it......
















 

"It's fucking Rick." I am told that this was the muted and somewhat relieved exclamation that I rendered as my headlamp illuminated our camp mascot. Not three feet away stood Rick. Good ol' Rick or "Fucking Rick" as he would now be called for the duration of our trip and the name by which you will hopefully choose to call him hereafter. As with our earlier encounter with the snake I would implore you to keep a safe and respectable distance from all wildlife...no matter how harmless they might appear. In this case, however, out there in the blackness my proximity was impossible to determine and so there we were. The Moose and an eight point buck locked in an apparent staring contest. Fucking Rick didn't startle or scare. Fucking Rick didn't run. He just looked at me, lowered his head slightly to get beneath the beam of my headlamp, and then simply walked to his left. All the while I stood there I had a sense of normalcy that eclipsed any expected feelings that such an encounter might bring about here in the world. There was no fear, no need for either of us to be alarmed.

Certain now that no machete wielding Leprechaun's were laying in wait behind each tree we decide to kick back for the night and retire.

Morning comes way too early and I wake up to the sounds of conversation in camp. I was surprised to see Spencer talking with a gentleman in NPS attire who turned out to be a backcountry Park Ranger out on patrol. Chase, as he introduced himself, was very polite and personable in checking our permits and we all talked for quite a while about the area and the Park. I have to say this was my first encounter with a backcountry ranger in all my years on the trail. Chase, if you're reading this let me extend to you the thanks of every responsible hiker in the Appalachians. And that's not hyperbole. You perform an under-appreciated duty.

 

 

After a farewell cup of coffee with fucking Rick we pack up and head back towards the trail head and the walkout is fairly mundane. Spencer and I talk about the usual things: the fall of Rome...The Big Lebowski...beer...and most importantly...when do we return.

No doubt it won't be long before the mountains pull becomes too much for me to ignore and hopefully I'll be back on the trail sooner than later. My first non-solo backcountry trip had been a refreshingly welcomed change. Away from people...with people, wasn't so bad after all.

 
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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) backcountry cold deer hiking photography river http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/8/to-greenbrier-and-back-again-part-ii Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:11:42 GMT
To Greenbrier and Back Again: Part I http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/8/to-greenbriar-and-back-again "Where the hell's the water?" I ask my friend as we walk circles around each other through the ankle high grass in the middle of backcountry camp #32. This can't be it. Surely there's another section of the campsite that we're missing. I look down towards the "creek" and see nothing but damp rock. He searches the side opposite and still nothing. The map showed the site to be situated on the banks of a creek. I've even got my Tenkara fly rod stuffed into my pack with the previously high but now obliterated hope of assaulting wild Brookies. But nothing. Not even enough to wet a fucking rag. Maybe the unmapped trail just south of the camp leads somewhere...maybe to the good camp...the one by the water. I admit that I was relatively disappointed as we waddled north along the manway(no really, unmapped but well used trails are called "manways") with our heads hung low in semi-defeat. We are in search of water and even a better place to string our hammocks. We were moving slow and deliberate. In fact, I figure at the very moment we were the most cautious bastards in the Appalachian Mountains. Why? Because of the rattlesnake. I forgot to tell you about the rattlesnake.

Before we get into all that, allow me to delight you with a little more information about the place where I found myself exactly seven days ago and where this here story is about to unfold. 

I already knew what I wanted to do. I wanted somewhere new or at least new to me. I investigated the maps and had all but settled on a spot in the Cumberland. Then suddenly I realized that as much as I have grown to like the small wildernesses and waterfalls that lovingly blanket that area of the near east portion of Tennessee...the fact was that I needed mountains. Mountains and rivers and the wide open air. I needed altitude and the sweet smell of the rhododendrons. My mountains. As always, when they call I must go. 

Still, I wanted a fresh place and a trail that my boots hadn't trod. The Greenbrier portion of the smokies kept catching my eye. It's located in the northern reaches of the GSMNP and looked like a prime spot to haul in some camera gear. It is an old mountain community and the land is still littered with rock piles from long gone homeplaces and chimneys. As I studied and inquired more about the area one very pronounced and shitty pattern began to develop. It seems that Greenbrier, especially the area to the immediate east of my intended camp, is home to the most dense population of Timber rattlesnakes to be found in the entire Park. Of course it is...why should it not be. That information withstanding, I still decide this is the place to expend the weekend. So as the departure date neared I readied myself for the probable certainty that I would be in the good company of a healthy assortment of sidewinders. 

Now, if you follow this sometimes incoherent and profanity laced and often whisky soaked rambling which society has gently labeled a blog, you may have noticed a very conspicuous word which landed in that first paragraph and no that was not a typo(see the part about whisky above). One of my best friends decided last minute that he wanted to be, at long last, baptized by backcountry. The bastard is a former and probably future world traveler and has been my friend through more than one bleak situation. So, I was more than happy to disappoint those who always expect me to say that I'm going into the wild alone. 

Calm yourself...I'm getting back to the part about the snake. Eventually.

After landing at the trail head we strike out at a respectable pace and soon realize that the trail, Grapeyard Ridge, is most certainly just that...a ridge. A ridge that seemingly climbs to about 100 yards past the far side of Venus. We march. Trudge. Languish. Plod even. We climb and dip down and then top out only to climb even further. We press on across creeks and through more than one tunnel of rhododendron.

 Just under the three mile mark we encounter a decent sized stream crossing and decide it is an opportune time to take some rest and cool off before making our final descent to camp. I take off my pack and shirt and enjoy my new-found lightness as I head for the water. We don't linger for more than ten minutes before we strap on the packs and push on down the trail. But we don't get far.

Within sight of the creek where we stopped there is a fairly ominous looking downed tree that blocks the passage. Easy enough to make it over in full packs so that's just what we do with my friend on point. After I make it over the tree we take a few steps and then he stops, turns, and points at the ground about four feet off the trail. Yep. It's a rattlesnake. Big and terrible.

Honestly, he was minding his own business just coiled up in the sun. No doubt still cold and sluggish from the coolness of the morning. We keep our distance and I make a few photographs. Together we come to the decision that the snake is just a little too close to the trail and that a misstep or worse...a fall from a unbalanced hiker crossing the downed tree could lead to disaster. So we take action.

DO NOT MALICIOUSLY PROVOKE OR ATTEMPT TO HARM: SNAKES, BEARS, ME, OR ANY OTHER LIFEFORM YOU MAY ENCOUNTER ON THE TRAIL

I extend my camera's tripod to the full six feet and remain as far back as I possibly can. Very carefully, I persuade the serpent to distance itself from the trail by carefully nudging the ground in front of it's head. There. Now you've heard the snake story. Can we continue?

Now we find ourselves back at the beginning with myself and my friend headed down that unmarked manway in search for water. It's somewhat of biggie because if we don't find any drinking water we will be forced to track back into Snakeland to fill up. Luckily, we come to a nice spot where the water is deep enough to gather. And gather we do. We retrieve or Camelbacks from our packs, plus two water bottles. I also decided to test out just how waterproof one of my stuff sacks truly was. So I empty it out and fill it up as well. All in all, we are quite pleased with ourselves. So we make our way back with our agua to campsite #32 looking like two half-ass Cosmonauts. 

The "life sack". My 10 liter waterproof stuff sack. I call it a life sack because: #1. It contains life sustaining water that we desperately needed #2. It sounds funny to say life sack...because I'm twelve.

We make camp, unload and pitch our shelters, gather up some firewood, and then stretch out for a quick siesta. My buddy Spencer enjoying said siesta. 

The mobile Moose Lodge. Home for three days.

The other member of our company arrives(yeah, not one but two other people on this trip) and we settle in for some chow and a much needed sleep. The next day will bring another unexpected visitor to our party and new adventures. But for now, I'm back home. Swaying in the hammock and listening to, well, nothing. And that's just what I wanted. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) GSMNP Greenbrier backcountry hiking photography river snakes http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/8/to-greenbriar-and-back-again Sat, 22 Aug 2015 22:23:10 GMT
Making the Image: The Brooding http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/5/making-the-image-the-brooding More often than not I set out with a particular set of photographs in mind. I'm not always sure how I'm going to shoot but usually I have some idea of where I want to be and when. Then there are times when I don't really know what I am planning to do. I just go and let the day direct my plans. Oddly enough those days can produce some of my own favorite pieces of work. One of these unplanned days happened again a couple weeks ago. I was back in Cade's Cove. If you know me at all then you know how connected I am to that place. That valley. My mountains.  It's a place where I prefer to go alone with very rare exception. If you have ever been there with me you should know that you must have meant something to me. 

So, after a full course of thunderstorms the night before, I set out early from the campground on foot. I'm here to test out some ND filters for a review I am writing and the weather is going to have to deal with me. It's still raining. Not much, but it's there. The morning air is cool and I can still see my breath out in front of me as I walk. A calm breeze carries the sweet scent of the wet earth and rhododendrons and I know that I'm home. When I make the gate to the eleven mile loop I'm nearly at a jog. 

Maybe a half mile into the Cove I come upon a familiar sight. There is a big oak that sits just next to the road and I've photographed it before on other trips into the valley. It's just a nice frame and it always offers a good shot no matter the season. The cars have started to come through and I find myself walking along the side of the road. I pass the tree and make it a couple hundred feet before I decide to stop and take in the sight of the rain clouds rolling through the mountains. I put down my camera rig and hang my pack on a fence post.

Looking back up the road I see the old tree and the clouds moving along against a post-storm sky. It looks nice. One of those quiet calms that seems uneasy. I think to myself, "Self, why not make a couple of fucking pictures?"...myself always uses bad language when it talks to me...but I find myself in total agreement with me on this so I snatch up the camera and tripod. Just as I find my spot in the road and remove my camera's rain cover a car leisurely make's it's way over the hill towards me. Dutifully I move from the road to let the bastard pass and smile that polite smile I have which hides the rage which is building underneath. What's this? The car is slowing down...not here...don't park th.... Of course. He pulls off right in front of my tree. Completely raping any hopes I had of getting my image. The gentleman ignores me and produces a camera and tripod from his car and makes his way across the road. I remind myself of the harsh and liver-shredding reality of my situation: I do in fact have to share this place. So I just stand there. Hoping either the man will get his photos quickly or realize he has somewhat intruded. All that was needed was for him to pull forward maybe twenty feet. Anyway, I keep standing there and he keeps shooting. I just enjoy the scenery and wait. Which is fine. Finally he is satisfied and looks at me as he folds his tripod. He gives a polite nod and gets back in his car. All clear.

Not wanting to waste another chance I move quick. I get back in the road and set up the tripod with the dexterity of a four-armed Eskimo filling an ice tray. I've shot this scene before and I want something different. I want a low perspective but not too low because I need the reflection of the wet asphalt. I want the road as perpendicular to the horizon as possible with the ridge of the mountains leading close to the base of the tree. Preferably, I wish I could have waited for the clouds in the top left of the frame to move further to the east so the tree had no bright sky in the background. I know that the next car probably isn't far away so I don't wait.  I fire off four exposures with apertures ranging from f8-f22. As often happens, the first shot was my best and this is the image I chose: ISO 50 at f/8 for 1/8 seconds with a 25mm focal length.

The processing was meticulous and I wanted to convey the sense of calmness that comes with the passing of a storm. In Lightroom I started by slightly straightening the image. You might have heard about the research I've been doing with the Fibonacci spiral or the so-called "Golden Spiral" and incorporating it in my landscape compositions. Well, this is one of those images. It might not be apparent and I'm not able to flip the crop overlay but the origin of the spiral begins at the base of the tree and radiates outwards and frames the mountains. Grab a vomit bag and look at this screen shot showing the overlay.

Does this sacred geometry add anything to the image? I'm not sure. But it's definitely something I will pursue in the future and talk about at spine-numbing lengths to folks who really don't care. 

After the straightening I begin with a couple graduated neutral density filters(GND) on the sky and the foreground. After that I made some selective adjustments to the sharpness and exposure with the gradient brush as well as some global adjustments of the same. I then adjusted the luminance and saturation of the greens and yellows, warmed the white balance a bit and then made some more tweaks to the overall exposure and vibrance. Each one of these markers represents a different point of selective adjustment. 

Overall, I was really pleased with how it turned out from beginning to end. Like I said, this wasn't an image I had set out to make that morning but it proved to be my favorite from the entire trip. 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) cold hiking landscape photography http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/5/making-the-image-the-brooding Tue, 12 May 2015 01:47:57 GMT
Ice Man III: The Final Chapter of the Laurel-Snow Wilderness Experience http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/3/ice-man-iii-the-final-chapter-of-the-laurel-snow-wilderness-experience The constant hammering of the sleet against my tarp has given way to a strange and almost unperceivable buffered ticking sound. I lay there motionless...afraid to move from the long sought warmness of whatever contorted position I held when sleep found me the night before. I feel the slow dread of the inevitable de-cocooning of myself from my hammock to face the skin-raping single digit temperatures of the first morning of my second day in the Laurel-Snow wilderness.

I notice the sides of my shelter are incredibly close to my hammock, much closer than they had been the past evening when I had first bedded down. In fact the entire tarp has changed its texture. The night before it was taught and smoothe but now it is pruned and slack like a wrinkled garbage bag. I dig my right arm out from beneath my swaddling and knock on the tarp a few times. I knew it had snowed and iced quite a bit during the night but I had no idea just how much winter damnation had been dumped upon my humble lodging. My rapping on the tarp was crackly and sharp and I knew I was now encased in what amounted to an ice wigwam. The percussion disengages part of the ice casing and it slides down to the ground with a strangely familiar “light saber-ish” swishing sound.

 

The ice shell.Ice hanging off my tarp.

Today will be a good day.

 

Feet on the ground. Boots tied. Coffee imminent. I NEED coffee. This has passed well beyond the confines of a simple want.

Beneath the hammock.Everything freezes.

“Contacts first” I think and I want to get the lenses in my eyes before I dirty my hands with my morning trail coffee ritual. I begin groping around in the stash bag that hangs on the side of my hammock. I feel all the gadgets and possibles that I had stuffed inside the night before but no contact lens case. Did it fall out of the bag? No. In the hammock? No. Anywhere else for shits sake? No. The cold is already beginning to seep into my gloveless hands so I decide to cut my losses and dig out my spare pair of contacts. This solves one problem yet creates another. Where will I stow my contacts the following night? True, my ever paranoid self has brought along a spare for my spare contacts just in case so I have extras. Still, the thought of burning through six pairs of contacts doesn’t set well with me.

In a stroke of MacGyver inventiveness I source a rubber band and save the new contact lens container. I lash the two containers together with the rubber band and make it tight enough to contain the contact solution. Crisis of the ocular nature has successfully been avoided.

Moose-made contact case.Because I can...

Now that I can see relatively well I set myself to making strong drink to combat the emerging tremors. It will be my first cup of snow coffee. I scoop up a generous portion of snow in my coffee bowl and light the pocket rocket. I’m worried my butane canister may be too cold to render the fuel aerosol even though I kept the can in the sleeping bag to avoid the issue. Happily the blue flame surges forth from the burner and coffee will soon be on the way.

Snow Coffee

Breakfast is a couple of frozen protein bars and a few pieces of nearly frozen jerky. The chow brings life back into my legs and the coffee cup has finally warmed my hands. I head down to the river and fill my Camelbak and guesstimate the amount of purification tablets to add. I make one last stop at camp to pack two lenses along with some food for the trail and grab my camera and tripod.  While it’s on my mind I rig up a tensioner stick for my tarp guylines to counteract the weight of the ice on top. The guyline stake was frozen to the ground beneath the ice so this was my response.

Tension stick.Another Moose-made innovation

The snow and ice has transitioned to a nice and relaxing freezing fucking rain just in time for me to strike out on the trail. The goal for the day is to explore the reaches of the trail with mission priority being the 85 foot Laurel Falls. I pack up and latch down my rain gear. I readjust the improvised rain cover on my camera and set my feet to the path which is now covered in a five inches of snow. The snow is quickly developing an additional crust of ice from the rain and each step releases a hugely satisfying crunch.

 

I head northeast towards Buzzard Point and Snow Falls. As I said before in part two, Snow Falls of course is a spot I will never reach on this trip but I do make Buzzard’s Point. I move double time along the trail which is admittedly hard to discern with all the snow especially once I hit the boulder fields.

Boulder fieldsThe graveyard of the Cumberland Mountains

I cross the river at the 150 foot steel bridge which is nicely sheeted in a layer of fresh ice making the crossing very interesting.

The said bridge of shittery.

From here on the trail is beautifully wrapped in its winter splendor as it winds through passes and around caves.

Nope.A whole lot of nopes.

Overall the hike was unremarkable until I reach the destination...except for taking a wrong turn down the Dimholt Road.

The rain continues for the remainder of that day. When I finally reach the overlook at Buzzards Point I am surprisingly impressed by the sheer magnitude of the sight in front of me.

I am standing on a large and empty expanse of snow covered rock that shoots out from the surrounding pine trees. The wind is an absolute bastard out on the exposed cliff. It’s causing the rain to whip and lash at me from every direction and at some point my tripod almost blows over. I have an incredible view of nearly the entire 360 degrees around the area. As wonderful as the feeling is of being surrounded by this epicness I remember I have to move along. I make a few quick exposures and then pack it up and I’m back on the trail.

The route doubles back and I find myself following my own footprints back down the trail and across the bridge and finally back to my camp before this time heading northeast towards Laurel Falls. It’s really raining now. It’s coming down so hard in fact that I’m worried about just how waterproof my self-made raincovers actually are.

After negotiating a few tight squeezes along the trail...

The said tight squeeze.Tight like a tiger....

I begin to hear the sound of the falls off in the distance and I know I am getting close. It’s around 3pm when I finally set eyes on the now nearly frozen Laurel Falls.

It is an alien world for me at least who has never witnessed a waterfall during a hard winter. There is still some water flowing but the falls are encased in an enormous shell of ice that looks like a giant hornet’s nest. The base of the falls have built themselves up into two monstrous ice flows each separated by a row of impressively large boulders. As soon as I see this I begin to form possible exposures in my head and then do what I need to do to make them  happen. I shoot around the perimeter of the falls and save the shots from the ice flows which are immediately in front of the terminus of the base for last. It was at this time something interesting happens. An extremely audible and nearly seismic “boom” suddenly echos across the gulf of the falls. This stops me in my tracks and confounds my senses. I’m not sure if it was a piece of ice falling against the rocks or one of these cryoseisms that we’ve been hearing so much about as of late. Turns out it was neither. As time will tell and my next words will reveal, the huge booming cracking sound was an Volkswagen sized chunk of ice preparing to break free of it’s shackles at the top of the falls. It is approximately fifteen feet long by ten feet wide by my rough estimation and in a few minutes it will come crashing down no more than twenty feet from where I will be standing out on the ice flow.

After making my way out to the very front of the falls I make a regrettable mistake. I lose focus on what I am there to do which is to make photographs of the waterfall. For about a minute this goal shifts to “lets make epic selfies in front of the waterfall.” I admit this is pathologically lame but nonetheless the truth of the situation. If I had not stopped to take a few quick snaps of myself I do believe I could have captured the disembarking of the ice and it’s subsequent plummet to the bottom of the basin.

Selfie of Death

So, as I am crouched on the ice and clicking away with my trusty pocket camera I glance over my left shoulder to be sure that the falls, my tripod and camera, as well as myself will all be included in the shot. It was at this decisive moment the waterfallberg(the best I could come up with) decided enough was enough. It’s difficult for me to verbalize the next few seconds of time in a way that doesn’t cheat the combination of emotions I felt in those moments. Fear, shock, excitement, awe, insignificant. Those are the descriptors but I can’t tell you in what order nor what degree each were felt. In true Michael Bay movie action form I see that big piece of ice break free with terrifying crushing audibility. It’s so large in scale that it truly does appear to fall in apparent slow motion. The sound and sight was surreal. As it falls to the base the initial booming noise tapers off in an echo the way you imagine an incoming mortar round. Then it hits. It lands with an inconceivable force and for an instant I feel dwarfed by the enormity of the entire happening. I see a wave of water leap forth from the caldera and rush out onto the ice. This is when I decide to vacate the location. I am sure the water or the impact will shatter the obviously fragile ice on which I am standing and take along with it my fragile person.

With my tripod and camera already in hand I somehow have the presence of mind to reach down and scoop up my rain cover and lens cloth before I hastily excuse myself from the danger. I retreat back another twenty feet or so and behind the line of boulders to the second ice flow. This is still not a smart or stable spot to be and it offers a less impressive composure of the falls. The falling ice chunk has jarred me into the full reality of the danger so I figure it is a fine compromise in order to protect myself and my gear from anymore car sized ice bombs. I make a few more exposures from this vantage point and then pack it up. I take a few strides until my left leg breaks through the ice and snow and I sink up to my hip. I wedge myself out and find the trail back to camp. Daylight is still the same indiscernible washed-out tone of grey but the time on my watch tells me that sunset will be in three hours. I want to leave myself plenty of time to make it back to camp and settle in for my second night.

I make it back to my Hammocktorium to unload and make sure my camera and lenses are as rid of the water from the shoot as best as they can be. At this point my legs and feet are completely soaked from the rain and the mishaps along the trail. I assign myself the task of barricading my sleeping quarters from snow that absolutely blasted in underneath my tarp the night before. I accomplish this with a little inspiration from my dwarven brethren of Tolkien lore and construct a rock wall at the place where the weather stole its way in so unmercifully.

Thror who?

Satisfied with my enhanced fortifications I decide its time for some food and then another solid nights sleep.

The nights meal is eaten in pleasantly warmer temperatures which I welcome with open spoon. Red beans and rice cooked in my beloved jerky broth and sopped with tortillas. Seeing as my food wasn’t freezing in the pot I inhaled it less quickly and with much more enthusiasm. Stashing the pots under the hammock unceremoniously I remove my contacts and realize I am too lazy to refill my water bottle so I bed down slightly thirsty but altogether content. I’ll drift off much as I did the first night only slightly warmer and with the confidence that I have at least two strong photographs on my memory card if I can manage to make it out the next morning. In my own mind the risky trip into Laurel-Snow has just became a cautiously labeled success and I drift off to sleep like a drunk monkey in a banana farm.

Morning comes and I am again hard pressed to dislodge myself from my nest above the snow. The stone wall I built did it’s job and reduced the wind so there was much less snow drift beneath me to contend with as I lace on my still waterlogged boots. I have to pack up for the hike out. The small items are the first to be packed followed by the sleeping bag and blankets. Lastly, I take down my hammock and tarp and stuff them away. I leave my now empty plastic food bag out so I can gather any left behind trace of my presence and pack it out with me as well. I make one last pass around camp and then I sling on my pack for the trek back to the waiting world where I’m sure two or maybe three people are certain I have frozen to death.

PackedLeaving my three day home just as it was found.

I make it back to my old friend...that nearly demolished and still ice encrusted fifty foot steel bridge that I avoided on the march in two days prior.

As sociopathic as it sounds my main reason for not crossing it the first time was because I hadn’t yet gotten any of the photographs I had came for and didn’t want to risk breaking myself nor my camera. Now I have those photographs and I know that even if I fall the memory card will almost certainly survive. I begin the slow yet deliberate traverse of the broken down steel passage. The damage is almost exclusively at the opposite end of the bridge so the first forty feet are relatively easy. Those last ten feet were where I earned my pay...if I was actually getting paid for this.

Yeah....

The grace and balance I exhibited while still wearing full pack and carrying my tripod in one hand was a triumph of physical mastery especially of a man comprised of my great girth. I make short work of the obstacle and before I know it I am bounding down the home stretch toward the trailhead.

I make a few quick stops when the opportunity presented itself for a photo or two and even make a brief investigation of the Richland Mine entrance.

Fair WarningAbandoned mines are extremely dangerous. For your own safety please do not enter these mines.

The last bit of the trail is pleasant and it gets warmer the lower I go in elevation. After I reach the trailhead there is still a mile or so of gravel road between me and my truck. The gate remains locked due to weather just as it was when I hiked in so I encounter no people until I reach the highway. I stow my pack and strip off a layer of shirts to make myself ready for the familiar four hour burn back west. I strike out with the contentment that one feels after winning a race or surviving a marriage. I had dove beard first into some of the worst conditions mother nature has thus far thrown my way. I’m not foolish enough to call the endurance a victory. Yet I will be as bold to call the outcome a tie. My time in the Laurel-Snow was a glorious battle between Moose and nature when both mighty forces refused to back down.

With the sound of the Hank’s well rested engine thundering I smile and move at an easy speed down the interstate. The road was long and I didn’t have any reason to hurry.

 
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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) Cumberland Laurel-Snow Tennessee backcountry backpacking camping cold hiking ice photography river snow waterfall waterfalls wilderness winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/3/ice-man-iii-the-final-chapter-of-the-laurel-snow-wilderness-experience Fri, 27 Mar 2015 15:34:21 GMT
Ice Man II: Three Days in the Laurel-Snow Wilderness http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/3/ice-man-ii-three-days-in-the-laurel-snow-wilderness It suddenly occurs to me that I might very well die in this place. The reality of quietly slipping off into an unwaking sleep and giving into hypothermia becomes very real. I've been on the trail for a little over an hour and I can tell the temperature has already begun to plummet. It was only sixteen degrees when I started and I have no way of knowing how low it will dip.

I had filled up my water bottle before I left home as I always do. The bottle isn't just a bottle but rather a water filtration system. Suspended within the water bottle is a filter device that, when empty, clangs into the side of the plastic with a  devastating "phrrring" which has an equally devastating effect on my mental fortitude. When full of water, however, the filter gives off an ethereal and uniquely soothing sound with each step I take on the trail. I have come to appreciate this sound as only someone who appreciates truly one-of-a-kind things can...you know...crazy people. As I walk into the Laurel-Snow wilderness I no longer hear the familiar sound of my filter bumping as I hike. I know that the water has already frozen.

I cast these morbid thoughts aside like a fat ten year old banishes broccoli to the trash can. I push on. Always forward. The faster I hike the warmer I get and for now, this is the only thought that occupies me. I begin to really enjoy the scenery of the trail which follows the semi-frozen river on my left and the ice encrusted rock bluffs to my right. The right decision was made when I decided to come here despite the ominous weather that was forecast. Along the way I pass the entrance to the remains of the old Richland coal mine.

I feel as if I am somewhat cheating you by leaving most of the mining and development history of the area in absentia but you can read about it here if you are so inclined.  As the riverbed falls lower and lower beneath me I realize that the trail is climbing higher and higher up the ridge. Higher means that I must be getting closer to the areas of the waterfalls and that means camp is not too much further up the trail.

It is here, not more than an eighth of a mile from my destination that the ice covered shit hits the snow covered fan. In my conversation with Dan on the drive in he relayed to me that the fifty foot steel bridge that crosses the creek had been severely damaged by a fallen tree and was not safe to pass over. When I finally make it to bridge...I find this.  

I am Jack’s sulking disappointment...

 

My thoughts were as follows and in this order:

 

  1. Cross the ice covered damaged bridge wearing full three-day pack.

  2. Find a way to cross on the rocks and ice.

  3. Wade the water.

  4. Turn my ass around and find a Cracker Barrel.

 

Crossing the bridge at this point was not an option. Although the fifteen foot fall probably wouldn't kill me it would most certainly kill my camera and negate everything I had came here to do. Wading the water proved futile because I couldn't risk hypothermia this early in the excursion. Pancakes seemed the only rational choice here…. Sadly, those beautiful golden discs of glory would have to wait because I had in fact remembered to bring my ice-gear on this trip for just such a hopeless situation. I strap the carbide ice spikes to my boots and begin to comb the banks of the river for a fording.

 

 

Normally, creek and small river crossings in spring and summer or even autumn are not such a big deal. There are almost always rocks or trees that can be employed by the industrious soul to negotiate such water hazards. In this case, where you the  glazed-eyed reader finds yourself joining me(I really am sorry I dragged you into this) its the ass crack of brutal winter and everything is slick. The rocks have a deceptively fragile layer of ice extending from them out into the river This “ice” is nothing more than a way to freeze/drown yourself in an unassuming three feet of water. The odd thing about this scenario is that you find yourself forgetting that beneath the seemingly solid ice is a river. You simply can't decipher where to put your feet. I go up stream and then down stream testing out the ice shelves and looking for some way to get across this miserable piece of fluid damnation.

 

About three hundred yards downstream I find a spot where I could possibly cross without getting soaked. Using my trusty tripod as a walking aid, I carefully and I do mean CAREFULLY dig my spikes into the ice and begin my hesitant crossing. By some incredible feat of Mooseness I make it through without spilling into the black and frozen water.

It’s around 6:30 P.M. or so when I reach the now snow covered clearing of my campsite.

After a half hours work in the snow....

This was the approximate time of sunset for the day and I’m relieved to still have light remaining to get camp pitched and try and find some dry firewood. An hour later the hammock is slung, the tarp is up and the camera gear is tucked in out of the snow. The fire is a lost cause and I am starting to feel the darkness and the cold close in around FOB Moose at the Henderson Creek site. I chose this particular campsite because it is right in the middle of the entire Laurel-Snow SNA. Using a centrally located jump off will allow me to leave most of my gear in camp and strike out on the trail with an ultralight kit consisting of essentially nothing but photo making tools, water, and twelve pounds of bacon.

 

After I give up on the fire in a fit of tears I resign myself to my frigid fate and break out my stove. It feels like hours have passed since I made it to camp. I hunker down beneath my hammock to eat and to get out of the wind and snow which has now begun to mix with sleet and rusty razor blades. Supper tonight will be a $1 pack of broccoli and cheese rice boiled with a few pieces of my homemade jerky and sandwiched between a few cheap flour tortillas. Humble sounding I know but those welcomed meals in the backcountry are some of the best you will ever taste.

 

While I’m inhaling my food I begin to experience something new. My chow is actually freezing faster than I can eat it. I find this briefly laughable as the snow begins to cover the toes of my boots and I realize I can’t really feel my butt anymore. I rummage through my hammock and find one of the fleece blankets I have brought and fold it into a half-ass(get it?) cushion so that my pants don't freeze to the ground tarp. I down the last of my rice and beef and with a proud and probably audible Lebowski-style “Fuck it, dude” I decide the only option I have is to cocoon myself in the hammock and sleep out the ice storm which I now find myself enduring. This brings me to a point of abject misery and gnashing of teeth that is unconsidered by the uninitiated but well known to thoroughbred hikers. It’s time to change my pants. Well, not change per say but layer on another pair to combat the cold of the encroaching night. You can thank me later for not going into more detail.

I think I mentioned earlier that another objective of this trip was to educate myself on cold weather hammock camping. Think of a bridge in winter. It doesn't have to be below freezing for ice to form on top of the bridge because there isn't any ground to insulate the bottom. Same. Damn. Principle. I learned this lesson the hard way after getting chilled while sleeping in the hammock during a four day backcountry hike in Elkmont without a sleeping bag. So I layered my hammock from the bottom up with: my issue wool blanket, then my 20 degree sleeping bag, fleece blanket stuffed at the foot, fleece blanket stuffed at the head...I then take my rightful place in the burrito and zip up the bag. After that, I wrap the wool blanket over the top and stretch the fleece around my head and shoulders. I tug my headlamp down around my neck and switch it off. Before I pull my trusty shemagh over my face I check my watch being certain that it’s ten or even eleven o’clock. To my surprise it is a little past 7:30 P.M. I have made camp, ate, and tucked myself inside my shell in a little over an hour.

 

I will stay here, suspended mid-air with the blowing ice and snow and sleep like a drunk baby for the next twelve hours.  Tomorrow I will set out to photograph Laurel Falls. I can hear the sleet pecking away at the outside of my tarp and the wind sets the hammock rocking at a gentle sway. I don’t want to be anywhere else.

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) Laurel-Snow Tennessee backcountry backpacking camping cold frozen hammock hike hiking ice photo photography river snow water waterfall waterfalls wilderness winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/3/ice-man-ii-three-days-in-the-laurel-snow-wilderness Wed, 11 Mar 2015 06:32:00 GMT
Ice Man: Three Days in the Laurel-Snow Wilderness http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/3/ice-man-three-days-in-the-laurel-snow-wilderness Sixteen degrees. The forecast only called for a low between twenty-three and twenty-five. It's 2:30PM which is over two hours later than I hoped to be at the trail head. I'm walking into the Laurel-Snow and it's sixteen By God degrees. I wonder if the ground...wait, I'm already ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning(which is usually the best place) and hurl my words at you in an effort to convey just how extraordinary my time in the pocket wilderness actually was. The telling will require two or even three volumes and I don't mind saying that it will be hard for me to decipher just what to include in each. Just know that it was cold, and lonesome, and difficult, and dangerous. It was to a toe-to-toe square off between the Moose and Mother Nature. It was exactly what I live to do.

As I find myself beginning to type I can only assume that this is in fact the genesis line and without a doubt the most appropriate place for me to start the tale. Sleep was hard to come by the night before I left. I awoke in the familiar and comfortable panic that is common to a man who thinks he has overslept. A wave of relief washes over me as my eyes focus on my watch. I was two hours early in waking. Grabbing this opportunity by the throat I realize that I can make it to my camp two hours earlier than I had scheduled if I get up now. So get up I did. 

As always, I go down my gear list and check off every single piece of clothing and food and gear that I'll need for the excursion. This is one of the rare and unfortunate times you will ever witness me in a serious state and methodically going by the numbers. Satisfied with my check-off I load the truck with my pack and camera gear. I feel that all too familiar excitement that borders on dread as I lock the door to the house. Only one more thing to do and that is to give old Hank(my vehicular manifestation of a brother) a once over before we strike out on the four hour burn to the Laurel-Snow. Oil? Solid. Tires? Solid. Tire pressure? Sol...no, no it's not. As soon as I remove the valve stem cover of my passenger rear tire I hear the depressing sound of air hissing out into the world. If I had left without checking it would have meant returning to a three-tired truck at the trail head. It's roughly 6AM and my usual tire place isn't open till 8AM. What to do? Well, I kiss all hopes of an early arrival goodbye. I procure a respectable bag of doughnuts and wait for the tire place to open. Spirits...are low.

While we wait for my tire to be fixed I might as well tell you about the place where I aim to go. 

It is called a "pocket" wilderness. It's just a little piece of land on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau. The Laurel-Snow segment of this wilderness is a 2,259 acre section of terrestrial wonderment and is dotted with old coal mines, caves, and waterfalls. It's named for the two main waterfalls that are found there: thirty-five foot Snow Falls and its larger sibling, the eighty foot Laurel Falls. The trail head isn't far from the city of Dayton, TN but believe me it is in my attestation, a truly wild place in the winter. I'll tell you now that I didn't make it to Snow Falls. I lost the trail twice on the way there and given the conditions and my time restraints Laurel Falls became mission priority. 

"White Z71!" Oh good. The tire is fixed and I can be on my way. With a belly full of coffee and doughnuts I sally forth to a three day and two night stay in a place I have never been in weather that's unsure and with a camping setup that's untested. Far out.

I think this is where we started before we actually started.

Hitting the Cumberland Plateau

I make it to the trail head...well, about a mile from the trail head. You see, on the way to the location I placed a call to a very helpful and knowledgeable park Ranger named Dan who was good enough to e-mail me the day before. In the e-mail he informed me that the dirt road leading to the trail head proper was virtually impassable. After speaking with Dan I was allowed to park my truck at a spot not far from the gate and hike in the rest of the way. It only added about a mile to my trudge so not much difference was made. I was also informed the fifty foot steel bridge that crossed Laurel Creek had recently been crushed by a fallen tree and was extremely hazardous...more on that grand encounter later.

So I park the truck. Realizing the temperature is way below the forecast I have the foresight to throw a long orphaned hoody from behind the seat into the pack. This was a pivotal decision. I truly believe without that ragged piece of cloth, the Jesus hoody we'll call it,  I wouldn't have made it though that first night. Walking around the locked entrance gate I head into the ice covered unknown. It doesn't seem like I've gone a nearly a mile when I see the trail head at the base of the hill. It's right along the river which is now nearly all but frozen over. I go no further than fifty yards when the snow hits. As I hike on I think to myself "What in God's name are you doing here, boy?" At the time I'm not entirely sure I can hack it with the gear I have. After all, I have no tent on this trip. In a bold attack of Mooseness I had decided to "test out" my cold weather hammock setup. Hammock. Snow. Rain. Single digits. As I said...far out. 

Suddenly an elderly couple appear out of nowhere from a bend in the trail. I set aside all thoughts of woe and let the lady cross in front of me with her husband behind. We exchange niceties and she says to me, "It's a winter wonderland!" I agree with her and we all keep hiking in our respective directions. They are the last humans I will see for three days.

It is crushingly apparent to me now that this story calls for no less than three chapters. So for the sake of your attention and for my memory I will end this portion here as I make my way into the bone chilling, toe numbing, grit testing wild.  This has been what William Shakespeare called "the rising action." And just as Bill said, "This shyte writes itself."

 

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) camera cold cumberland hiking ice photo photography river snow winter http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/3/ice-man-three-days-in-the-laurel-snow-wilderness Tue, 03 Mar 2015 04:47:16 GMT
Into the Valley: Twenty-four Hours in the Big Cataloochee http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/1/into-the-valley-twenty-four-hours-in-the-big-cataloochee Now, I had found myself walking through worse valleys in worse places before I made my way into this one. And you can be damned sure they weren’t as peaceful as the Cataloochee.

This here story I’m about to unfold took place in the early summer of 2012. I had set myself to make a pilgrimage of sorts from my home in west Tennessee, across the expanse of the Appalachian Mountains and into North Carolina...and regrettably back again. The trip would clock in at just over a thousand miles and amounted to a big loop across the state. I knew I had a hard drive just to get to North Carolina and after that I really had no idea how exactly to get into the valley. Still, it was one king hell bastard of a challenge and I was not going to let it get the better of The Moose.

 

Before I stitch in the particulars, aside from the inherent juvenile humor that comes from just saying “Cataloochee”, let me tell you a little bit about the place that was the aim of this particular trip. Firstly, its not big...at all. It’s just a little corner of ground that for one reason or another became carved out from the granite of the mountains. It had been a settlement for...well, settlers going back to the 1700’s and is fairly comparable to the Cade’s Cove settlement in Tennessee that holds onto my recollection so tightly. It is in fact called the “Cade’s Cove of the Carolinas. The great thing about it is that because it’s so hard to reach, the tourists haven’t got their filthy feet onto it yet. It’s literally just as it was when the last of the farmers left as late as the early 1930’s. It’s so remote that it was chosen for the first reintroduction of Elk into the Park as well as wolves. It’s peaceful. And peaceful is always what I try to find. So I went.

 

Here’s the story of before I made to the valley. I drove. And then drove some more. The end.

 

After I crossed into NC I was almost completely sure I was lost and I mean Moses in th By God desert lost. Of course I was alone, as usual(with rare and usually futile exception). Even for me, as a proud shunner of most devices that put me in contact with other people(but I have a blog...hmmmm) when you first realize your cellular has lost it’s signal for good it’s somewhat of a jolt. You’re on your own and it takes a few hours to get used to it no matter what the so called bad asses might say. I drove around in circles on this little paved road through what I guess would be called a neighborhood. They were really just little houses dotted along the steep green hills and I couldn’t help but expect some Hobbit-like creature to wobble out from behind one of the buildings. I consulted the map and remembered that that I was not in fact a pussy and that I hadn’t came all this for for not. I picked a direction and started driving. Soon enough the pavement gave way to gravel and then the gravel to mud. I knew I was headed the right direction when I saw this sign.

 

 

 

It was indeed the right direction, but it definitely was not the best route. Unknowingly, I had chosen to take my truck up the ass-crack of one of the shittiest roads that one can find in the Smoky Mountains. It was winding, and steep, and muddy, and winding, and steep...and muddy...and steep...and shitty.

 

Not that I minded it but there was still the lingering anxiety that I was driving into nothingness with daylight quickly dropping below the horizon.

Fast forward about an hours worth of four-wheel drive. There is a fresh sheen of grey mud covering my truck but I’m finally in the Cataloochee Valley. I locate the campground and of course blow right past the ranger station to find my campsite along the river. I’m planning on getting up before daylight so I saunter on over to the “ranger station” to get some information and claim my reservation. I am, for the most part, politely informed that I had committed a campground sin by not stopping before going to my campsite. So with the humbleness of a crippled nun I apologize for my misdeed. “I need these people” I remind myself. You see even in these types of places there is an open and closed mentality. Usually they unlock the gate at sunrise and lock it again at sunset. Which is fine...for normal folk. But I am here to make photographs of the valley and I need to be in there before the sun comes up. So, I limber up my words and harang the ranger with phrases like “I’m a photographer” and “natural grandeur” and “I’ll pay you to let me in”. Luckily, they settled for “I’m a photographer” and said they would leave the gate dummy locked and I should help myself. Which was a good thing because I was nearly as penniless then as I am now.

 

I make camp and sleep relatively rock-like to the sound of the river. I had my phone set for 4:30am and up there an alarm clock is all they’re good for.  I break camp in a blur, shatter the globe to my luxury lantern, and then make a bee line to the gate. And what do you know, they actually left it unlocked. It’s overcast and the sun has just started creeping over the mountains. I was actually a little late because it was already light enough to see which I still regret. There were some elk grazing in the early morning sun and I made some less than great photos. Of course, the overcast sky began to turn stormy. So I made my way along.

 

 

The place still sports old houses, churches, and a school house. They all, for the most part, look like the people just got up and left. I navigate my way through the valley making pictures and enjoying the absolute quietness of the place. Nobody else is here. That’s something that I’ve always revelled in when I find myself in these kinds of places. I don’t expect you to understand what exactly I mean but that’s where I finally find my peace.

So, I begin to duck into these old houses and churches and the old school. I’m not ashamed to admit it...I was thoroughly scared. It’s hard to explain and maybe it was because of the sheer remoteness, but it was downright creepy. It felt like I was trespassing if that makes any sense. Still, it was extraordinary and despite that fact that I went from zero to sissie in about three seconds when I heard a “bump” in the attic of one of the houses, I had a fine time exploring the expanse of the old settlements. And I’m not saying that the houses are haunted...but they’re haunted.  

I struck out of the valley in the late evening. I found an easier road and made a quick passage back into Tennessee and on to Townsend for a much needed three day escape.

 

I’ll find my way back eventually.

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/1/into-the-valley-twenty-four-hours-in-the-big-cataloochee Sun, 25 Jan 2015 07:02:33 GMT
Photomaker: Origins http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/1/the-story-of-a-photomaker-origins Though there are some who will argue the point, I was not born the epic specimen of bearded magnificence that so many of you have come to love or hate. No. I can admit it. Like everyone else, I started somewhere. It's not an easy road that I have trudged nor should it have been. The truth is I'm still travelling down that lonely stretch of highway...usually under the influence of strong drink and never careful. 

So as the muse strikes, I find myself wanting to suddenly speak in the third person and impart a little lesser-known knowledge about the Moose(that's me...don't act like you haven't heard). Rest easy and quiet your fragile hearts because this is not a story of my life thus far or how I have managed to survive it with most of my parts intact. This is a story telling of the small flash of history that set me on the unlikely path to becoming a photographer...photomaker...light jockey...picture man...whatever you choose to call what I do. 

I have always felt more at home in the middle of some wilderness than I ever have or ever will while dwelling amongst other humans. Well, I should say most humans because I have gradually learned that some of you are very fine and agreeable people. Still, as time and experience age me I look back and understand that my love for the wild places and the outdoors was imparted to me by my father through many walks through woods and along rivers. And it is here, on one of these journeys with my father into those great mountains called The Appalachians that I first caught the disease that would consume much of my attention as I became a man.

It was a hellishly hot summer of a year I don't rightly recall. I remember that I must have been around the early teenaged years or just before. Even then I was completely in love with my mountains. I loved how the rain made them seem even more welcoming and the smokey haze is something that I still stop and watch quietly when I visit today. My mother was back at the hotel relaxing and I had commissioned my dad to take me fly fishing into the upper reaches of the Little River at Elkmont. On our drive to east TN, we had stopped at a Wal-Mart in Pigeon Forge I think, to get a few things and I talked my parents into buying a Kodak Black and White disposable camera. I don't remember why I wanted black and white instead of color but it was a choice that would shape my thoughts on photography even to this day. 

As we fished our way upstream I compiled selective snapshots of the various things you find along the banks of a river: trees, water, rocks, my dad tying my line for me. Somewhere around the two mile mark on the Little River Trail there is a small wooden bridge that spans over what I would later discover is called Husky Gap Creek. This small patch of mountain water rushes under the trail and into the river below. As it flows down the mountain it creates little pockets of waterfalls most not more than a few feet high. This is the "jumping off" point that marks the boundary of the Elkmont backcountry and it would become a place I have passed by many times over the years. Its the location of...ah hell, I'm rambling again.

Anyway, it was here among those tiny waterfalls on Husky Gap Creek where I made the photo that I still consider the beginning of my photographic career. Here is a photograph of that photograph.

By all admissions, this photograph is a pile of technical shit. ...washed out textures and harsh lighting. But for a little boy with a cheap disposable camera it had might as well  been some kind of elvish magic. You have to understand that I had never seen water like this. Ever. The way it was frozen by the flash and whatever shutter speed that was dialed in by whatever Chinaman(not the preferred nomenclature) who happened to pull the shift at the Kodak factory and assembled that camera.  I saw the image as chaos captured and rendered somehow serene. I was completely astounded by how something so common could be made to look so different by simply pressing a button. I honestly believe it was then, as a boy in the middle of all those little waterfalls that I found one of my life's passions.

Here is an image I made a couple of years ago during one of my returns to Elkmont.

Granted even it is not the best exposure but I do believe somewhere in the photo is the original spot where all of this madness began. It is still a very special place for me and always will be.  It is a memory that remains super glued into some distant corner of the emotionally corroded block of old iron that the doctors insist is my heart.

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adamlwelch1984@gmail.com (Adam Welch Photographist) http://www.aphotographist.com/blog/2015/1/the-story-of-a-photomaker-origins Thu, 22 Jan 2015 03:02:15 GMT