I summit Pinnacle Mountain and nestle my back into the boulders, surrounded by dwarf sumach, mountain blueberry, and rhododendron on all sides. The hike is short and sweet because I park my car at 5,000 feet and climb the unmarked trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I hike hard and in under 30 minutes I am at the top, hugged by a view of total white out.
It’s an unmarked trail and an unspectacular mountain, at least according to most maps. But I like it a lot – the access is easy and private because not many people know about it (I still have to clock it 10.6 miles south on the Parkway, otherwise I’ll speed right by the slight opening of forest that gives way to the trail). The trail climbs the top of the ridge in a southwesterly direction. I study the map and decipher that this ridgeline is the precise county line, represented by orange dashes and a few labels on the topo.
This also explains the posted NO TRESSPASSING signs all along the southwestern side of the slope. Just one foot to the right of the trail, and you’re stepping into the tippy-top of BigCity, NC’s watershed. It’s no small wonder to me how water moves in the mountains, and there’s something inspiring about being near the source. If I step to my left, I’m leaning into my own watershed, and little trickles start just 1,000 feet higher that eventually lead into the South Toe River.
On a clear day, the view shines onto Mt. Mitchell (the highest mountain east of the Rockies) to the north and Grandfather Mountain to the southwest. There are countless other peaks in there, but those are the two I can identify without hesitation. But today the clouds have lingered atop this section of the Blue Ridge Mountains for many hours. The vegetation is drenched in fog-kisses and my clothes are wet from brushing up against branches.
There is nothing like the sound on the top of a mountain shrouded in white-out. After the birds stop their warning chirps, announcing your arrival and after the heart and lungs have caught up with the pace of the hike, there is something unique left. It is a sound and sensation not unlike being closed in a coat closet, with only the subtle sound of your own breath and the stillness of the solid color around you. But on top of a mountain, which is wide-open and exposed even in a white-out, the feeling is highlighted by the paradox of being utterly free and spacious and in the moment.
If yesterday’s hike was a reminder to know when to stop, today’s is a reminder to know when to listen. Quiet. Space. Breath. Life. It’s all there, weaving some great plan above the rim of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And like ants down in the valley, we live our busy lives and carry things to and fro. I always want to remember to look up. To breathe in, and taste that sound. To bring it all back home.