On New Year’s Day I decided to take a six mile solo hike to the top of Grandfather Mountain. With an elevation of 5,964 feet it is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Grandfather Mountain, a North Carolina State Park and an International Biosphere Reserve, is a rugged, monolithic piece of rock that dominates the skyline from most any vantage point in the greater Blowing Rock/Boone/Banner Elk area. While the property is not as large as Blue Ridge Mountain Club, Grandfather Mountain’s 3,200 acres is rich in flora and fauna and represents the South’s best high alpine landscape and high altitude hiking experiences.
My hike was scheduled for daybreak and was intended to be a tribute to the New Year. It was symbolic for many reasons. Firstly, I wanted to start the year with a positive, clear, and achievable goal; secondly, if you have seen my waistline lately you would know that I was motivated by the benefits of the exercise; and finally, I wanted to have some quiet time to clear my mind, absorb the lessons of 2011 and refocus my energy on a productive 2012.
The goal was Calloway Peak and my route was the Daniel Boone Scout Trail. At the starting elevation, approximately 4,000 feet, New Year’s day started very cold, gray and with the threat for snow. I, however, was dressed warmly, had backcountry provisions in case of an accident, and was determined to continue. It is a humbling experience hiking in such a vast landscape. Most of the time I only noticed the steady rasp of my breathing, but periodically the mountain calls for your attention…a snap in the forest, the wind blowing through the trees, shafts of sunlight peaking from under the clouds, the changes of dark and light intensity as you pass through different forest landscapes. Likewise, after a while the phantoms of my mind call for my attention as well and trigger unmistakable questions about my mortality…are there bears or mountain lions lurking in the shadows? What if I twist my ankle, break my leg or fall from a cliff? Regardless, these are not uncommon thoughts for any solo hiker and I persevere.
After about two hours of hiking I finally reached the final quarter mile. With only a couple of hundred feet in elevation remaining the path became very treacherous with ice floes and snow. I bullied through several hundred feet of trail, slipping and sliding, holding onto trees and branches to help pull myself along the icy trail and up the rocky faces. I continue ahead determined to reach the top, but find that my footing is increasingly unsure and the mortality issues from the previous parts of the hike screaming in my head. Reluctantly, I turn around and head back down the mountain.
As I return down the trail my first inclination was to be disappointed in not standing at the pinnacle of the mountain; But after a while I am comforted by the knowledge that while I did not reach my intended target, the goal of the day was still achieved: a little soul searching, a little exercise and a few more lessons about myself to take into the New Year. Oh well, I’ll try it again next weekend…I love living in the mountains!!!