A mystical peak that offers hiking for all levels
An hour west of Knoxville rises a place lost in the folds of geographic time. Lightly boot-kissed paths disappear maze-like, labyrinthine, into thinning air. Sandstone spires jut randomly about as if to intentionally obscure their cartographic lineage. It would be the home of elves and wood sprites, dared we believe in such. I am bounding between boulders, running my fingers longingly through textured creases in ways naught but a climber would. We are taking on but a small dose, one portion of this long trail that allures us deeper into an adult playground.
Drifting through this rock garden atop Crab Orchard, few know of our own Black Mountain. It is a rooftop bar where we sip enchantment and bid farewell to Tennessee’s eastern hills as they melt permanently into an endless plateau. It makes for good long views, 20 miles at times, from her sweeping overlooks. My shoes grind acorns deeper into The Cumberland Trail, each step connecting, appreciating the work done by this organization to cobble and hew these 300 miles over many decades.
Mindlessly lost in a Tolkien fantasy, I glide past an unusually yellow creature. Its tail full of rattles suggests there is plenty of wild left on this mystic mountain summit. Unconcerned with me, I tread past it more gingerly through waving fern and galax. Water bubbles from an adjacent spring with a sweetness only accounted for by the layers it must have squeezed to rise here. Deep jungle cackles denote the unmistakable taunting of pileated woodpecker and raven sailing untouched through stands of beech and elm.
I’ll return many other days to hang in a harness tugging at iron flake on an arete known simply as the “Party Hawaiian Wall”. I’ll blister my blisters, pull ticks by the half dozen and forget to turn around and grab a well-earned view while topping out on an overhang called “Elvis Never Wore Lycra”, expertly bolted by volunteers with the East Tennessee Climbers Coalition in conjunction with the Tennessee State Parks. It’s the best rock in our part of the state; the first place I ever squeezed into ballet shoes with sticky rubber soles some 30 odd years ago.
But this day is just for walking, dreaming, wildflower counting. This day belongs to us gnomes.