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2004 Southeast Highpoints Expedition
(Click on the links for more detail about each highpoint, including pictures.)
Some time ago, I realized that, in one trip from Austin to North Carolina and back, I could bag most all of the southeastern state highpoints. The possibility of the Texas soccer team playing in the final four of the 2004 NCAA tournament, held in Cary, North Carolina, reminded me of this. Although Texas did not make it that far into the tournament, I had some free time, so I decided to claim the highpoints anyway, and catch the soccer finals while I was at it.
Right before I left, I got my first issue of the Highpointers Club newsletter. One article, by famed Colorado climber and guidebook author Gerry Roach, talked up the idea of reaching the highpoints of the US National Parks. I already happened to have a few of these. The only one along the way to add would be Hot Springs NP, and I planned on heading straight to the city Hot Springs anyway, to catch the Arkansas highpoint. So I added Music Mountain to my list, on the way out the door.
I set out on the road, solo, at 8 am on Sat 27 Nov towards Hot Springs, Arkansas. I got to Music Mountain, the highpoint of Hot Springs NP just after sunset. After I found the highpoint, I was pleased to find Gerry Roach's name in the register, a first for me. The register didn't indicate a whole lot of traffic. I then drove a little more north to get closer to Magazine Mountain.
The next day I headed out to the highpoint of Arkansas. I kind of wanted to check out some 5th class climbing routes on the south face of Magazine Mountain, but the trail did not pass by this area, so I missed out. Some poor navigation led me to bang up my already almost-shot tires on some dirt roads. I had to add an unplanned stop to get four new tires, with an alignment, back in Hot Springs. That didn't really waste much time, it so happened, so I was on my way to Louisiana that evening.
The next morning, it was a quick drive to the highpoint of Louisiana. Nearby, there is a marker where notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde met their end, ambushed by the law. I didn't have complete directions, so I missed that marker. I headed off to the northeast corner of Mississippi, partly via the Natchez Trace Parkway, which was a pretty drive. Right at sunset, I walked up to Woodall Mountain, the highpoint of Mississippi. I should have worn blaze orange here, as there were hunters at work around. I didn't, but wasn't mistaken for a deer, and drove on towards Anniston, Alabama, for the night.
There was a band of bad weather that was supposed to pass through, but it would not arrive until evening. That left plenty of time to climb Cheaha Mountain, the high point of Alabama, although it was completely foggy. This was a nifty hike, short but very steep, so I felt like I had earned the highpoint. I then drove on towards the Georgia highpoint, stopped for the night, and slept through the heavy rains that passed by.
The next morning, the front had passed, and the sky was clear and blue. I made a 5.5 mile hike to Brasstown Bald, the highpoint of Georgia. There were signs warning hikers to wear blaze orange, so I finally put on my cool orange cap. The great weather was supposed to last through the weekend, and then become poor afterwards. I had the longest and hardest hikes ahead of me (the Carolinas), so I decided to skip the soccer semifinals on Friday, and do the Carolinas in good weather.
I wanted to avoid the trivial drive-up route to Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina, so I did some research looking for a different route. The hike from Table Rock State Park to the summit sounded interesting, although it would take two days as a 19 mile round-trip. (It does turn out that there are some other, shorter hikes, from the west.) Some helpful advice from a park ranger led me to a wonderful campsite. The next morning, I quickly bagged the highpoint of South Carolina and then hiked back to the trailhead. I loaded up the car, and drove to Asheville, North Carolina.
Saturday morning, I drove towards Black Mountain Campground, for Mount Mitchell, the highpoint of North Carolina, and the highest point east of the Mississippi River. A closed road added three miles to the trip, and some ice on the trail made it a little tricky, but I made my fourteenth highpoint around 1 pm. After the (long) hike out, I drove on, carrying an endorphin buzz, towards Cary and the NCAA soccer championship game.
My feet were very happy that I didn't do any hiking on Sunday. Instead, I watched Notre Dame and UCLA play for the women's soccer championship. Notre Dame easily had the best of the play, but all the scoring in the game was strange. UCLA scored first, off a botched back-pass by the Notre Dame defense, which was reminiscent of a bad goal that UCLA had given up the previous year. That goal was not enough, as Katie Thorlakson, for Notre Dame, was fouled inside the penalty area and earned a penalty kick. She converted, to tie the score at 1-1. UCLA picked up a penalty kick attempt soon afterwards, but the ND goalie saved that chance. The game ended up tied, and advanced to a penalty kick shootout. Notre Dame won the shootout, and with it the national championship. Thorlakson, who skipped playing for the Canadian national team to be available for this tournament, led the nation in scoring, and led her team to the national championship, had clearly earned the MVP award for the season. The fools in charge didn't even put her on the first team of 11!. After the game, I drove off to Marion, Virginia, to get ready for the next highpoint on the list.
The next morning, the bad weather had arrived. Foggy and rainy. I headed on to Grayson Highlands State Park, and set off on the trail towards Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. This hike was more difficult than I expected, but a really interesting one. Typically, this area is overrun with people, but I saw absolutely no one. After this walk, I drove through some pouring rain to Appalachia, Virginia, and then to the Virginia/Kentucky state line, where a road leads to the highpoint of Kentucky.
My hiking was now done, but I continued towards the Smoky Mountain National Park. I had hiked to the highpoint of Tennessee, years ago, and I hoped to finish this trip with a 'victory lap' by driving the tourist route to the top. Unfortunately, the road was closed for winter, so I failed here. Worse, I had to deal with some horrible traffic on the way out. Thirty-six hours later, with a total of 3906 new miles on the odometer, 64 new miles on my boots (plus 2.2 vertical miles uphill), I arrived back in Austin.
I thought that this time of year (late fall) was a good time for this trip. The cool weather is good for hiking, although the days are short, and it is also hunting season. (One more hazard!) The crowds don't seem to agree that this is a good time, so most of the trails were completely deserted. That suited me just fine.