Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ridgepole Mountain

Years and years ago I went hiking on the Appalachian Trail to get to a point where I could bushwhack to the summit of a mountain named Ridgepole Mountain. The old story when I was a kid was that Ridgepole Mountain was originally supposed to have been in Georgia. That is, the northern boundary of Georgia was to have been struck slightly north of where it ended up. However, the local Cherokees were in an agitated state and the surveyors tasked with marking the northern boundary were afraid to proceed, so they just picked a convenient spot and called it the northern boundary of the state.

Therefore, as all good little hiking Georgians from the days of my youth would say, WE WUZ ROBBED!

Robbed of what?

Well, apparently we were robbed of some 5,000-foot peaks. That was the buzz along the trail when I was a kid. If only those surveyors hadn't been such scaredy-cats, then we'd have some fivers in my native state. And I would always think about what would have happened if Ridgepole Mountain had become our highest point. Instead of Brasstown Bald having a road carved onto its slopes and all the way to the summit; instead of Brasstown Bald having its top leveled and a huge brick and concrete visitor's center lodged on its high point, then all of those crimes would have been committed against Ridgepole Mountain.

And what is Ridgepole Mountain now? It sits in the middle of a relatively enormous (by eastern standards) wilderness. There is nothing built on its summit. There are no roads gouged into its flanks. It sits in a sea of green, just one more 5,000-foot mountain surrounded by other 5,000-foot mountains.

Hiking on Ridgepole Mountain and the surrounding untouched wilderness, I'm always very happy that those Cherokee braves scared off those European surveyors.

Off in the distance there is Ridgepole Mountain. I took this shot from a mountain called Pickens Nose, named for the Revolutionary War general, Andrew Pickens (whose life served as the fictional basis for the character in the film THE PATRIOT). In real life, Pickens was a stealer of Cherokee land and killer of that nation's people.

This was, as near as I could figure through line of sight, the actual summit of Ridgepole Mountain. There is no visitor's center here. No road. No cars, no trucks, and other than me that day, no people. Just a great southern hardwood forest. It also has the highest bear population density in the southeast.

I found this really excellent campsite on the way to the bushwhack to Ridgepole. It's not far off the Appalachian Trail. Another neat feature of this campsite is that just a few feet away is a sheer cliff that plummets many hundreds (maybe over a thousand) feet.

Just beyond those shrubs is the edge of the cliff. Since I was all alone, that was as close as I dared go.

For contrast, this is what could have become of Ridgepole Mountain if it had ended up in Georgia instead of North Carolina. If it had been Georgian territory, it would have been our only 5,000-foot peak and would be ruined, as the summit of Brasstown Bald is ruined...

Instead, this is the extent of the engineering done on the slopes and ridges of Ridgepole Mountain. You can thank the Cherokee warriors of many generations gone...

No comments: