I live in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. It’s not an area known for having mountains or gorges or much in the way of exciting topography. The name means, after all, “Foothills”.
Living here the best you can generally expect when it comes to mountains or chasms are long-distance views of the Blue Ridge from various points along the roads and byways. Close enough to give you the fever, but not near enough to satisfy your jones for the high country.
However, when I get really desperate for a taste of the vertical, there is one spot where I can go and at least pretend I’m around something that can be called a mountain:
Crowders Mountain State Park.
Now, it’s not the greatest place in the world. One of its local nicknames is “Crowded Mountain”. And this is for good reason. I’m certainly not the only local who looks upon this spot as an escape valve to let off some hiking pressure. It’s not the back country, but it’ll do in a tough situation.
Less than two weeks after I returned from fourteen days in the Rockies of Colorado (eight of them in the Weminuche Wilderness), I got the fever to go hiking again. But I don’t have the necessary vacation time to just head into the sunset to go looking for mountain solitude. What I did have was a Tuesday off and a full tank of gas. So, I did what I always do when faced with such a situation:
Not a bad hike.
I headed for Crowders Mountain State Park.
One thing that always sets me back on these trips is that I consider Gaston County a suburb of Charlotte (where I live). But it’s not just an easy drive over to the park. What I always envision (even after years of going) is a drive of a few minutes to get there. But in fact it sometimes takes me an hour if the traffic is heavy. On my latest trip (today) the drive took almost forty-five minutes because I had to stop for gasoline and I hit a few traffic jams. So much for getting to the trailhead in quick order.
But one thing that I do like about the park is that you at least can find something like calm and silence. If you’re on the ridges you can forget about being out of range of the sounds of internal combustion engines. There are just too many roads around to escape that on the higher points. But down in the coves you really can find some peace. The ridges block the sounds coming from outside the park and all you can hear is the wind and the birds and the chatter of squirrels. If you hit the park just right—well, there really is some solitude!
But what I really want when I resort to Crowders Mountain is some vertical relief. And in the Piedmont that means one thing: A monadnock.
The Piedmont of North Carolina has a number of these geological formations. I’ve covered them in my summitposts before. The Sauratowns, Pilot Mountain, South Mountains, Morrow Mountain, etc. Mother Nature didn’t give us any actual mountain ranges out here, but She did leave us some isolated little peaks. And that’s what Crowder Mountain is.
Some people say that the definition of a mountain is a point that is 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. (Yeah, I know that there are many definitions—but that’s one of them.) If that’s right, then King’s Pinnacle, which lies just to the south of the main Crowder Mountain formation, is a genuine mountain. The lowest point on the trail to the pinnacle is just under 680 feet. And the highest point on King’s Pinnacle (according to my GPS) is a shade over 1700 feet. So in a two-mile one-way hike I am able to gain 1,000 feet of vertical.
And the mountain itself does have some nice cliffs. You can get killed up there if you’re a dumbass. And pretty much every year some folk do become careless or foolhardy and end up falling off of one of those cliffs (either on King’s Pinnacle or Crowder Mountain).
Scramble to the top!
Once on the top, you have no illusion at all that you’re in the wilderness. From the top you can see that the park (large though it is) is surrounded by development. There are subdivisions off on the borders of the park, and Interstate 85 lies just to the west where the wheels whine and the motors roar, burning up gasoline and diesel by the ton.
But, it’s what I have at hand. It could be worse. I might have nothing at all to climb when I get bitten by the hiking bug. If that were so, all I could have done today was dream about the San Juans, or pine for the Smokies, or hope that I could get away to the Black Mountains in a few weeks.
Instead, I had a nice hike to the top of King’s Pinnacle and logged 1,000 vertical feet and had a good time.