Sunday, February 05, 2012

Gone Forever

I was sifting through older digital photographs today and happened upon a number from hikes at one of my very favorite places: The Black Mountain Crest Trail along the spine of North Carolina's Black Mountains. These are the highest mountains in the eastern United States. This particular trail is one of the toughest I've ever hiked. It's only about twelve miles long, but all of the constant ups and downs and the extremes of topography means that it has never failed to take me to the limits of my physical abilities. I generally end up all but crawling back to my starting point.

One of the very few photos I have of the old lookout tower on Mount Mitchell. I took this one from near the top of the second highest peak in the eastern USA, Mount Craig.

For some reason, in most of my hikes there, I would generally stop off at the lookout tower on the summit of Mount Mitchell (the highest point in the range), but I never took a good photo of the old tower! It was a strange design for a tower, and rather unique in its way. However, it was apparently pointed out somewhere along the way that it was not user-friendly for disabled people. And so the decision was made to tear it down and rebuild a lookout tower that was more accessible to people who can't walk.

Now, my own opinion about such things is basically that life isn't fair. And our high points are not curiosities for those who can't or shouldn't be there in the first place. Almost every high point in the eastern USA has had a road carved to its summit so that lazy people can drive there. It's a travesty. I would love to see the auto roads carved into places like Brasstown Bald, Clingman's Dome, Mount Washington, etc. to be torn up, filled in with native earth and replanted with native trees and shrubs so that such roads would--in time--become bad memories on the faces of these great peaks.

Hiking with lardasses. (Theme for a later blog.) One of my pals chooses carefully when he goes hiking with groups, trying to avoid hikes that include a bunch of lardasses. My own weight fluctuates wildly. Sometimes I'll weigh as much as 240+ pounds, as I did on this backpack on the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Other times I'll weigh around 185 or so. Fortunately for me, even when I'm a lardass, I have always been able to hike on steep mountain slopes. But, yeah, I prefer not to be a lardass.

So, to get back to the point, the old tower was removed from Mount Mitchell. It was slowly torn down, rock by rock, until the old surface was revealed and the new lookout point was put up--also slowly. Weather on Mitchell can be tough (to make an understatement) and it finally was completed. Today, folk in wheelchairs and on crutches can roll and hobble up a slight incline to a wide concrete surface to take in the view. Indeed, the new tower is less harsh against the skyline than the old one. It has that going for it. I don't know what plans the park service has for the day when the recovering balsam forests begin to rise up and block the views. For such a day will surely come if the acid rain and balsam wooly adelgid do not once again combine to kill off these forests as they did in the 1980s and 1990s. I fear they'll cut down the recovering trees so that the lazy and the disabled won't be inconvenienced.


MarkGelbart said...

Oh, I keep meaning to tell you this, but I keep forgetting.

We went to Roan Mountain Bald about 3 years ago.

Next to the grassy bald is a hemlock forest. None of the trees were dying yet.

You might want to check it out before the disease spreads there.

HemlockMan said...

There are several peaks in this area where I have not been--and I can't explain why, exactly. Roan Mountain Bald is one such peak. Despite the fact that I've hiked and backpacked and camped all around it, I have yet to go to the summit. Maybe this year!

Tennessee still has a lot of living hemlocks forests. Will Blozan is working with the state of Tennessee to ensure that some vast tracts of hemlock forests will survive this man-caused plague. He's currently involved in treating large swaths of the Savage Gulf against hemlock wooly adelgid. He and his small team have treated thousands of hemlocks so far.

My hope is that the insect plague will burn itself out and that the patches of protected trees saved by people such as Will Blozan will serve as the nursery for a recovering forest of both Eastern and Carolina hemlocks.

Time will tell.

Kent Tankersley said...

I think I remember the old tower, seems it was like a cold, dank fort. Or maybe I'm thinking of some other place. Don't think I've been back there since the 70s. Alas.

HemlockMan said...

That was it. Your memory is correct. There was a great room underneath that was indeed always cold and damp. At any rate, it's now history. I guess for perfectly selfish reasons I miss the damned thing--I took Andy up there when he was just a tiny boy and he enjoyed the views--perfect clear day.