A 'peak' of reflection
Less than two weeks after an inspiring visit to Yosemite National Park in California, I found myself back in Crowders Mountain State Park hiking the Kings Pinnacle Trail. I try to visit Crowders at least twice a month, usually hiking that same path. Even after a visit to the spectacular Yosemite, my enjoyment of Crowders is in no way diminished. I am grateful to have such a destination so close to home, and from atop the peaks I often reflect on the rich history of the peaks and the Piedmont below.
I’m always surprised at the number of Charlotteans who tell me they’ve never been to Crowders. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Charlotte, just west of Gastonia, and has two mountain peaks: Crowders Mountain and Kings Pinnacle. The Pinnacle towers 800 feet above the flat Piedmont landscape below, and Crowders Mountain is nearly as high.
A unique view
The hike up Kings Pinnacle is close to 4 miles roundtrip and is rated “strenuous.” I would describe it as a nice workout for a seasoned hiker and a challenging adventure for the inexperienced. The Kings Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain peaks are classified as kyanite-quartzite monadnocks, hardened structures that survived the ancient erosion of the surrounding land. While the actual elevation of Kings Pinnacle at 1,705 feet is not high compared to mountains in the Blue Ridge range to the north, the view of the flat Piedmont below is different from the views usually seen when hiking in the mountains. In the mountains, you tend to see views of other mountains. Here, the height is accentuated by the lack of surrounding mountains.
As a Sierra Club hike leader, I’ve had the opportunity to lead many hikers on their first visit to the top of Kings Pinnacle. The trail is well shaded by trees, so there are no real views on the way up. It’s always a small thrill to reach the summit and see the reaction – often, “wow!” – when a first-time hiker views the wide-open expanse below.
The survival of the two mountains in Crowders Mountain State Park depended on more than the resilience of their quartzite rock. In the early 1970s, the land was privately owned, and exploratory mining had begun. We could have lost this treasure if not for the dedicated efforts of area residents who formed the Gaston County Conservation Society. Their work preserved and protected the property, which became a state park in 1974. At that time, the two mountain peaks had not yet been purchased. Crowders Mountain was added to the park in 1977 and Kings Pinnacle in 1987. More recently, additional land was purchased to increase the size of the park and to create a link to Kings Mountain State Park just over the S.C. border.
Reflecting on the past
When I reach the top of Kings Pinnacle, I think about people who have come before me – not just recent hikers, but Native Americans who reached the summit thousands of years ago. As I scan the horizon, I wonder what they thought about as they gazed across the land below.
It is believed that the land was once a prairie, grazed by herds of buffalo long since gone. The prairie has been replaced by a broad tree canopy and a surprisingly small amount of developed land.
What will hikers see a thousand years from now?
I hope that they’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the outstanding – and seasonal – views that I’ve enjoyed on so many occasions. From Kings Pinnacle, the view can be hazy on a hot summer day, and in cooler weather, sights become sharper. On a clear day, I can see Charlotte in the distance, and I feel the intersection of the past, present and future, all converging on that peak.
Steve Copulsky has lived in Charlotte since 1986. He is an environmental activist with the Sierra Club and founder of www.charlotteoutdoorart.org, a website for the enjoyment of outdoor art in Charlotte. He was an Arby's franchisee until recently and also worked for the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-543-7493.
This essay is reprinted with permission of CharlotteViewpoint.org, where it originally appeared.