Tuesday, August 23, 2016


View from the top of Little Pisgah Mountain, looking at Chimney Rock cliffs at far left.
Photo by Spencer Clary

I spent many days hiking on Little Pisgah Mountain, and had some great experiences, but one particular day has stayed in my memory for 40 years as an especially amazing time.  It was a beautiful clear summer day in about 1975.   I was with my good friend and hiking buddy Michael.  (I recently got in touch with him to fact-check this story, and of all the adventures we shared it still stands out to him too!)

We parked on the lower part of the mountain and spent most of the day exploring and just soaking in the beauty.  We rambled the pastures, visited my favorite cliff overlooking the Garren Creek valley, and explored some new areas and routes where we hadn't been before.  Found a tree or two that needed climbing.  Just enjoying the time!  By early afternoon we made our way to the top of the mountain.

At that time it was still unspoiled.  If you go now there are houses scattered around, a road to the top, and an ugly steel tower right on top of the mountain.  It makes me sick.  But this was before all that, and it was just a grass bald on top of a mountain 4450 feet tall.  Beautiful views of Shumont Mountain and Hickory Nut Gorge.  I loved that place!

 The top of Little Pisgah Mountain.
Photo by Spencer Clary

While we were enjoying the view we heard a jeep grinding its way up the mountain.  It pulled up to where we were and a couple of rednecks climbed out.  One of them said: "Look what we killed on the way up here!"  He reached into the back of the jeep and pulled out the longest rattlesnake I ever saw.  He was holding the head about even with the top of his head, and the tail touched the ground.  Close to six feet long!  Michael says he remembers looking at the tail and seeing 10 or 11 buttons.  The guys were obviously impressed with what they'd done, while Michael and I were just wishing they had let it live.  But we didn't say anything.  They were after all rednecks, and armed, and maybe a little drunk.  They didn't stay long, and we were glad to see them go.

That kind of messed with our peaceful mood, so we walked a little way back down the mountain and found a few more trees to climb.  That was fun!  There was this one tree...  We climbed up 25 or 30 feet and found a couple of comfortable branches to sit on.  After 10 minutes we were ready to climb down.  But when we looked the next branch below us was a loooong way down, and neither of us could remember how we got up the spot where we were!  We kept being polite and saying: "Go ahead, you first".  Finally one of us got up the nerve to try a sketchy move, and we both made it down.

It was getting later in the afternoon, but we decided to go back up to the top for a while before we left.  I'm glad we did because we got to see something amazing. There was a thunderstorm coming up the Gorge at Chimney Rock.  (At the far left end of the top photo.)  What made it unique was that the whole storm was trapped down inside the gorge.  The top of the thunderheads were even with the top of the cliffs.  Above and all around was sunshine and clear blue sky.  But down in that gorge was a monster!  It was jet black, and lightning was zapping through it from one side to the other.  The most concentrated storm I ever saw.  We could hear thunder echoing off the cliffs, and we knew the people in that gorge were getting bombed!

We sat there watching, and we had a ringside seat.  We were in sunshine with a perfect view.  There was a breeze coming off the storm with a fine mist in it, just right to be refreshing.  But there was one nagging worry.  That monster was moving up the gorge towards us.  And we were on the very top of a bald mountain, with our heads the highest point east of Asheville.  I remember some discussion like: "How close are we going to let that thing get, and how fast can you run?"  I admit I was getting edgy.  We knew it was crazy to be where we were, but this was a once in a lifetime experience, and we didn't want to miss it.  I just didn't want it to be a last in a lifetime experience!  We were lucky though, just when I was ready to bolt (Like lightning!) the storm got to where highway 64 splits off and heads up towards Edneyville. It turned away, and went up that valley.  (You can see the valley angling from left to right in the center of the top photo.) 

It faded out of sight and the show was over.  But what a show it had been!  In our recent discussion Michael and I agreed it was one of the most spectacular things we ever experienced.  Exhilarated and exhausted we made our way back down the mountain.  It was a good day to be alive!   


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