Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 15, 2013

Enjoying Nature: The Magic of the Mountains

By Don Hazel
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — John Denver had a hit song called “Rocky Mountain High” about finding beauty and serenity in the Rocky mountains. But you don’t have to go to Colorado to experience the magic of the mountains. Every time I drive east out of Knoxville or Maryville and first see the 6,500 foot high Appalachians in front of me, I break into an automatic smile. There is just something about mountains.

Here in Cumberland County Tennessee, we are not in the mountains ... we are on the plateau. The highest point in Fairfield Glade is 2,130 feet altitude at Chestnut Oak Ridge where the water towers and the cable tv satellite dishes are located near Druid Hills Golf Course. The water tower near the Good Samaritan campus on Peavine Mountain is at 2,117 feet elevation. Some nearby peaks that you might know are Renegade Mountain (which is officially Haley Mountain) at 2,670 and Black Mountain, nearby, at 2,828. The highest peak in Cumberland County is Hinch Mountain with an elevation of 3,048 ... that might be tall if you came from Delaware, but it is just a baby by mountain standards.

Some folks set a goal to reach the highest points of a given area. A number of people have achieved the “seven summits” which is the highest peak on each of the seven continents. Obviously, that accomplishment is out of reach for most of us.

In the U.S., there is a group called “Highpointers” who promote climbing the highest peak in every U.S. state. You could start with Florida’s Britton Hill with an elevation of only 345 feet above sea level and move all the way up to the Mount McKinley (Denali) in Alaska at 20,320. But I suggest that you forget those extremes in height and distance and start closer to home.

The highest point in Tennessee is close by and easy to achieve. You can drive to the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and walk the half mile paved trail to the top. Clingman’s dome is 6,643 feet above sea level and also the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. The views can be spectacular on a clear day, and even on a cloudy day being above the clouds is a very cool experience. Stay awhile, look around, experience the altitude, notice that even the plant life is unique at that altitude. Always take rain gear ... mountain weather is forever changing. High in the mountains, everything is just a little different.  Check off Tennessee.

You are now ready for your next step. Go to the highest mountain east of the Mississippi ... 6,684 foot Mount Mitchell, NC. Mount Mitchell is about a four hour drive from Crossville. I suggest staying a night in Asheville as part of the trip. The hike to the top of Mount Mitchell is even easier than the hike up Clingman’s Dome. Park in the lot by the museum and refreshment stand and walk about a quarter mile on a paved path to the top. Of course, you can always start on a lower trail and make it a longer trip to the top. Check off North Carolina.

You can stop there or keep on going. A few thousand feet higher is Guadalupe Peak in Texas at 8,749 feet in altitude. The hike is hard, but very doable. It is about 8.5 miles round trip with about 3,000 feet elevation gain. If you then feel ready for a “fourteener,” you could try Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado at 14,433 feet high. The route that my wife and I took was about a 4,000 foot elevation gain and a 14 mile round trip. No special climbing skills are needed, but the ability to handle the elevation can be a challenge. Some of the magic of mountains begins to decrease as the effort to breathe increases.

You don’t often hear people talk about the magic of their TV, or the magic of one more golf game, or the magic of doing nothing. If you are feeling a little bored, or a little old, or a little same old, same old ... take a drive, and go experience nature at its most beautiful ... experience the magic of the mountains.

Comments, questions or suggestions for future nature articles are welcome at don.hazel@gmail.com