THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM
It's probably 70 degrees outside as I write this. It seems hard to believe that we had 17" of snow on the ground just a few days ago. The snow is mostly melted now, and the great Charlotte blizzard of 2004 seems only a distant memory.
The blizzard was great fun for a couple of days, at least once I'd survived the 100 minute drive home from work at noon on Thursday. We spent a couple of days hanging around the house, using up firewood, and playing in the snow. One day we even sat in the Jacuzzi tub with Margaritas and blasted Jimmy Buffett on the stereo. By Sunday though, I was getting cabin fever. I knew I needed to get out hiking.
I really wanted to hike in the snow at Mt. Rogers on Sunday. The roads were still an icy mess Sunday morning though, so an early start for the long drive was out of the question. I was forced to look closer to home. I decided to head for Crowders Mountain State Park and play in the snow there.
I arrived at the Park Office and planned my route. Crowders Mountain State Park basically consists of two 5-mile hikes, or one long one if you're feeling ambitious. I decided to do the hike to Kings Pinnacle first, with the option of extending the hike to Crowders Mountain if time and energy allowed.
I hiked across the parking lot and passed a group of guys that had just arrived in a Hummer. These guys were stretching out in the parking lot like they were getting ready to tackle Mount Everest. Welcome to Crowders Mountain, guys! I hope you can handle it! Well, I'm sure that Hummer came in handy back on Friday for the crucial cross-country trip to Blockbuster and Kroger. Normally I would say that you shouldn't judge a person by the kind of car they drive. In this case though, I'll make an exception. What a bunch of dorks.
I followed the Turnback Trail into the woods. There was still some snow, but the trail was mostly clear. After a few minutes I picked up a side trail that led out to the main park road. 50 yards on the road took me to a trail that circles the park lake. I'd never bothered with this trail before, but thought it might be interesting in the snow. I circled the lake and took in views of Kings Pinnacle above the pond. At the far side of the lake I picked up the nature trail, which followed a small stream through open forest. This path led back to the Turnback Trail. With the warm up out of the way, I began the climb of Kings Pinnacle.
The trail climbed to a ridge where it joined the main route to the peak. I climbed along a rocky ridge on a path that was more difficult than you might expect. The peaks of Crowders Mountain may not be much more than glorified hills, but they still provide some exercise. I scrambled up some rocks to reach a rock outcrop just below the summit. Here was a nice view across rolling farmland to the South Mountains. The higher mountains towards Blowing Rock were visible beyond. In the farthest distance I could just make out Table Rock and Shortoff Mountain in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
I enjoyed a quick lunch in the sun before hiking the rest of the way to the summit. Here was another nice view to the east. Crowders Mountain reared out of the flat piedmont, with the skyline of Charlotte visible beyond.
I headed down and back towards the park office. I stayed on the main Pinnacle trail this time to form a loop. It was still early when I neared the trailhead, and the trails were mostly clear, so I decided to extend the hike. I continued towards Crowders Mountain, eager to get a few more miles in before heading home.
I reached a busy road and waited for a couple of minutes before I could cross. Then I climbed the rocky spine on the well-named Rock Top Trail. This is probably the most interesting trail in the park, as it occasionally requires scrambling over boulders. I finally reached the summit, which is unfortunately marred by communication towers. I descended beyond to a rock outcrop. This is the focal point of the park for most people, and lots of folks came and went while I had a brief break and enjoyed the view.
I headed down the far side of the mountain. This trail descends a long series of steps. The stairs are on the north side of the peak, and were still snow-covered. This made for a slippery, exciting descent. Eventually the stairs ended and I followed a gravel road below the cliffs of Crowders Mountain. Eventually I turned off onto a footpath that looped back to the main access road that bisects the park. From there, it was an easy 30-minute walk back to the car.
I returned to the parking area to find the Hummer already gone. I guess those guys wore themselves out and headed for home. I wasn't worn out, but I was content to head back to Charlotte. It had been a wonderful, warm, sunny day. The snow was still pretty, but no longer an obstacle. I'm sure I'll be back to Crowders Mountain the next time I'm looking for a hike close to home.
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