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Appalachian High Points


Author: Lynn & Gary Clark

Business trips are an occasional necessary evil in my job. The question is, how to make them a little more tolerable. We hit upon one possible solution when I discovered ANOTHER LIST - there are actually people out there who are attempting to reach the high points of all the states in the Union! They have a club, a web site (http://www.americasroof.com), and an annual convention!

Now, as Gina Pasquale can confirm, these lists can be dangerously addictive - the Colorado 14ers, Century Peaks, 50 Classics, etc. I seem to be attracted to lists of about 50 items; it's a reasonable number, and seems doable in a lifetime. A little research will yield the fact that there are exactly 50 states!! When we took stock upon first becoming aware of this game, we realized we had already done quite a few in the West, which makes the game even more attractive. However, we had nothing in the East, due to the fact that (1) we've spent little time in the East, and (2) I've never heard of any climbing objectives there that warrant the travel.

But business travel I don't pay for, thankfully. I'd feel better about paying for a good flogging. The High Points game seems to add enough motivation to make traveling for the Lab palatable, if not enjoyable.

So it was that I find myself in Atlanta at a 4-day conference. Lynn comes on the last day to meet me, and we blast out of the city early the next day to begin a typical epic driving and check-mark-collecting trip. First stop the high point of Georgia, Brasstown Bald (4784 ft.). A brilliant day in full sunshine, and we jog up the half-mile trail by mid afternoon and back to the car to lay in a course for the next closest objective. . .

Tennessee looks good - real close on the map, and it's only another half-mile tourist trail to the top from the parking lot. We arrive at 5:00p to find a closed gate - not open until March 31! OK, so now it's a 15 mile round trip, with about 2000 feet of gain. What to do? We have no food and only a single diet coke in the car, and it's still an hour's drive to anyplace we can stay for the night. So, we do the only sensible thing - begin hiking.

The road closure was a blessing in disguise. Clingman's Dome at 6643 ft is one of the most popular summits in the United States, as the high point not only of Tennessee, but also of the Appalachian Trial and of Smokey Mtns. National Park. On a good day in the summer, thousands of people go to the top. We saw a couple at about a mile out, then another couple at 3 miles, then nothing but a possum, squirrels, a nice sunset, and miles of iced-up trees. We arrived on top just at dark, then broke out a headlamp for the short hike back to the road. Walking the seven miles back to the car on in a brilliant, cold, moonless night, with probably the best stars East of the Mississippi, was quite fine. Off to dinner and bed, then an alpine start from the sleeze-bag motel to begin the drive to . . .

Virginia: We hadn't expected to do Virginia, but it was too close to resist. We finally found a road map with the high point identified, and drove to the nearest town. We were lucky to find a climbing/backpacking shop (!!!) with a map of the area. It would have been impossible without the map; Mt. Rogers is in a sizeable wilderness area, with a myriad of confusing trails. Arriving around noon, we hustled up the trail, getting temporarily lost a couple of times as a snowstorm approached rapidly from the West. Finally we were on top after 5 miles of snow slogging. The summit was a rock in the forest. No views. Oh well, it's snowing now anyway, nothing much to see. Back down, and head for . . .

North Carolina: I started to have misgivings about NC, since it's high point is the highest summit in the East, and the storm was now in full swing. Sure enough, the seemingly endless driving on these incredibly crooked mountain roads only got us to a road closure. Get out the map - it's 11 miles to the next turnoff, then 5 to the mountain; a 32-mile round trip, and we need to be back in Atlanta for a next morning flight. We do the only sensible thing: get the hell out of there, and head for . . .

South Carolina: This relatively minor objective (Sassafras Mtn, 3560') poses an ethical dilemma - you can drive to the top. The High Pointers Club has solved this with a simple rule - you gotta hike at least from the last intersection. We park and begin the 2.5 mile hike in a light rain. A half-mile from the top, a trail mercifully breaks off to bypass the asphalt, and we arrive on top in short order. Talk about summit views! I've been on summits in the Alps, the Andes, and the Himalayas, and can honestly and objectively say that this really sucked compared to any of those.

We easily made Atlanta that night, and practically kissed the ground upon arrival in Albuquerque the next day. There is some nice country in the East. None of it compares to our back yard.

Synopsis: High points of GA, TN, VI, and SC conquered. Defeated in NC. 1000 miles driving, 31 miles hiking, somewhere around 5000 feet of gain.


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