Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Little Pisgah - Part 1: Beginnings

I fell in love with Little Pisgah Mountain in 1971 when I was 20 years old.  It was love at first sight, but that day was years in the making.

 Lower slopes of Little Pisgah seen from Fairview
Almost half of the mountain is hidden behind the ridge you can see.

Some time around 1960 my parents began a search for land out in the country with plenty of woods and a spot to build a house.  After several years they found a place they liked, 11 acres of wooded land on Garren Creek Rd in Fairview, and as I later learned, just across the road from the base of Little Pisgah Mountain.  Steep as a horse's face, and beautiful.  It fronted on Garren Creek, which at that point is cascades, pools, and a 10 foot waterfall.  The land went up the side of the mountain from there, with a couple of good sized ravines cutting into the mountainside.  These contained babbling branches flowing with sweet tasting ice cold water.  

After they bought the property we continued to live in Asheville for a several more years.  They looked at house plans, and when they couldn't find what they wanted my Dad sat down and drew a set himself.  That was my Dad, if something needed to be done he just did it.  He was a radar technician in WWII, and after the war he did radio and TV repair.  He was a master carpenter and woodworker.  He was foreman of the finishing department for a local furniture factory, and did furniture refinishing in his basement workshop, specializing in rebuilding antique pianos and pump organs.  If the plumbing leaked he replaced it. He did electrical wiring.  If the car broke down he took it apart and fixed it. The list goes on, and every job he tackled was done as a craftsman.  He was an amazing man!

During those years we'd go out to Garren Creek on weekends to explore the woods and picnic by the creek. My Mother hunted out the wildflowers and my Dad spotted birds.  (They both loved nature, and I grew up hiking and exploring with them and my sister.)  On hot summer evenings we'd go out there and eat watermelon with our feet in the creek to cool off.  It was already starting to feel like home!

In 1970 Dad started building the new house.It was located on a ridge in the center of their property where it would always remain private, and with a spectacular sunset view back down the Garren Creek valley.  He did almost all the work, with my inexpert help doing framing and some of the other two-person jobs.  It was my first attempt at real carpentry, and the quality of work my Dad taught me became my guide for a 30+ year career as a carpenter.

As soon as the house was finished we moved in.  I was just finishing high school and living with my parents.  (When I was 17 I had run away to California to join the hippies and missed a year of school.  But that's a whole 'nuther story!)

We hadn't lived there long when my parents decided it was time we went up on Little Pisgah Mountain.  The base of it was just across the road from us, and we had a beautiful view of the lower half from our deck.  We were looking at a 1000 foot wall of beautiful woods, and it was another 1000 feet from there to the top. (4450 feet)  But so far we hadn't been on it at all.  

My parents picked a Saturday morning for the hike. (I have to confess that I had been out too late the night before, had a headache, and tried to weasel out on hiking.  My Mother finally shamed me into going.)  We drove highway 74  to the top of Hickory Nut Gap and parked at the turnoff of Little Pisgah Road.  Now a decent gravel road, it was then just a rutted, rocky, and narrow 4 wheel drive track up the mountain. 

It was a beautiful hike!  The road is steady uphill, but not steep.  The terrain and woods were gorgeous.  At that time it was undeveloped, with no houses, no ugly towers on top, no recent logging.  Just some cows grazing in the pastures, with maybe a couple of grouchy bulls.   The whole mountain was like a giant park!  

As we went up we passed a couple of smaller logging roads turning off to either side.  But eventually there was a well worn road turning left, and the main road going on in in a more Eastern direction.  I don't remember the discussion, but we continued for a while on the right fork.  I do remember finding an old grave off the side of the road.  It had an obvious headstone, but we couldn't find any markings on the rough rock.  An interesting story there I'll bet!

About that point we turned back to investigate that other fork in the road.  Maybe because it went more towards the Fairview side of the mountain, nearer where we lived.  For whatever reason, it was a good choice.  It didn't take us to the top of the mountain, but lead to a huge area of pastures on the North-west side.  The lower part was fairly level, with a small stream flowing out of one side.  (That later became a favorite campsite.)   From there the fields swept up the side of the mountain, with ever-widening views. There were sweeping vistas to the South and West, and it was an altogether beautiful place.  We thoroughly enjoyed our hike, and I was hooked.  (I forgot all about that headache!)

Bearwallow Mt and beyond from the Little Pisgah pastures

Before long I went back on my own to explore.  I discovered if I very carefully took ridiculous chances, I could navigate my little Fiat sports car up Little Pisgah Road.  Straddling ditches and squeezing around rocks, it's a wonder I didn't tear the bottom out from under that car.  But it was fun!  I was still hanging around those lower pastures, and hadn't yet been to the top of the mountain.  It was soon time for that to change!

One Saturday night I camped with a couple of friends at that pretty spot beside the stream.  The next morning after breakfast Jerry said he knew the way from there to the top, and we should go.  Good idea!    We walked up through the meadows, and continued up around the North side of the mountain.  From there we had a magnificent view of Mt Mitchel and the ranges of mountains around it.  From there we followed more old Jeep roads til at last we came out at the top.  At 4450 feet it's the highest point East of Asheville.  Bald at the top, it is a spectacular viewpoint.  Or at least Jerry said it was.  That morning it was socked-in with low hanging clouds, and we couldn't see a thing!  We sat on a rock for an hour or so, but it never cleared up and we finally had to leave.  You can be sure that it wasn't long before I went back, and I wasn't disappointed.  Looking down into Hickory Nut Gorge, across beautiful Shumont Mountain, and as far to the East as the atmosphere will allow.  I spent some wonderful days up there!

Here's a map showing the area I've been talking about:

 The blue line is the hike I took with my parents,
the purple is the route from the lower pastures to the top.
The white areas are the pastures.

Disclaimer: I'm showing a map for informational purposes only.  The whole area is private property, and I can't recommend trespassing.

(Here's where I wish I had some good photos taken from the top.  Maybe I can get some later and add them.  In the meantime here's one more on the way up.)

If you've made it this far with me, thank you!  Stay tuned for part 2 where the death defying adventures begin!

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