If you're stuck in the Charlotte area and you're really desperate for the mountains, you can always fall back on Crowders Mountain State Park. Sometimes referred to as "Crowded Mountain" due to the crowds one often finds at the summit, you can avoid the long lines if you go middle of the week, on days of questionable weather, or to the less popular, but more spectacular Kings Pinnacle.
Crowders Mountain, as seen from Kings Pinnacle (Yes, of course there are commercial towers on top--radio, microwave, etc.)Crowders Mountain is a classic monadnock. (Go look it up.) It's composed of quartzite caprock that has resisted erosion (oops! Creationists cover your eyes) over millions of years. Because of this area of caprock, we are left with a line of high ridges that rise above the flatter Piedmont terrain in which it's set. These small peaks are quite visible along I-85 as you drive the miles from Gastonia to the South Carolina border.
Most of these ridges are quite small and have only a hundred feet or so of relief above the surrounding territory. But toward the very northern end of the feature, they rise as much as 900 feet high. Thus, they can honestly be called "mountains" by local standards. The two most striking of these peaks are Crowders Mountain itself, which is also the most massive of the peaks, and which sports quite an extensive section of sheer cliffs that are popular with experienced rock climbers and with local idiots, and Kings Pinnacle, which is about 100 feet higher and is accessible by a longer hike.
The local idiots are almost always good for a laugh or three. They tend to dance along the cliff edge or attempt to downclimb for a better view, or to climb up to precarious locations to impress their friends. Quite often, these mischievous scamps fall and die in shattered heaps far below along the base of the escarpment that had, mere seconds before, so fascinated them. Another breed of idiot will often set off to climb the 500 vertical feet, or 600 vertical feet, or even 900 vertical feet completely unprepared for a physically tough outing. They'll take off wearing sneakers and jeans in the brutally hot southern sun with maybe a single bottle of Evian, or maybe no water at all! How funny these folk are when you encounter them on the summit, swaying in the heat, or collapsing to the earth from sun stroke! Sometimes they bring their dogs with them! Oh, how funny they all are. Hardly a summer goes by without at least one accident, or the occasional suicide?
My favorite of these mountains is King's Pinnacle. It's also the tallest of the mountains in this tiny range of summits. From the top, on a really clear day free of the effects of photochemical haze (courtesy of Modern Man, thanks very much), you can see the distant piss ant skyline of Charlotte to the north or, looking west, the looming Blue Wall of the Blue Ridge escarpment. Sometimes I climb to the top of Kings Pinnacle (I know a secret trail where you actually have to climb, hand over hand), and find myself alone there, free of the lowland idiots, with the small summit to myself, and dream of more distant lands, wilder places.
That'll do, Crowders.
On the summit of Kings Pinnacle with my three favorite hikers: Me, Myself, and I.