By Alyson Hansen
A few months ago, my husband expressed his wish to visit all of the high points of the United States. We would work our way up to Denali in Alaska as the grand finale. I thought it would be a cool way for us to see the U.S., so I agreed to this plan.
Being an outdoorsy sort of couple, we are already prepared for long, strenuous hikes. We have been eating our way through freeze dried backpackers food for the last year to find our favorites —mine is biscuits and gravy.
My old trusty hiking pack was replaced as a Christmas present this year, and stuffed inside the new pack was a sleeping bag that could keep me warm in below freezing temperatures. I usually hike in hiking sandals but invested in a good pair of waterproof boots for those high points that we might attempt in colder weather.
For the most part, we are all set for this.
So over the Christmas break, we decided to knock out three high points in one go: Sassafras Mountain in South Carolina, Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, and Mount Rogers in Virginia. We packed up our Old English Sheepdog, Elke, and made the drive to South Carolina.
It needs to be pointed out that I’m a mountain snob. I’m from Montana, specifically a valley that is surrounded by mountains that reach close to 10,000 feet.
A hike into the mountains generally involves several hours with the potential to run across bears of both the black and grizzly varieties.
The Appalachians, while beautiful, aren’t really mountains in my book. They don’t have tree lines, meaning they are short enough for the trees to grow completely over the top of them. My mountain snobbery was confirmed when we made it to Sassafras for our “hike.”
Sassafras is 3,554 feet tall. There is a parking lot basically at the top. All of this can be overlooked, however. My husband is from Kansas, and the high point of that state isn’t really significant either.
What was the biggest disappointment to us was the construction on the top. The actual high point bench marker is surrounded by a fence so we couldn’t get to it.
Basically we drove all that way for not much. To make it worth our while, we walked along a small trail that led to the North Carolina border and took silly selfies of us on the state line.
Our next destination, Mount Mitchell, is another high point that has a parking lot at the top, although with more promising views.
I had this romantic notion that we could drive to the top and watch the sunrise while enjoying a cup of cowboy coffee and an apple crumble from our backpack stores. After, we would hike down and back up.
We did indeed get to drink coffee at the top, but it was so miserably cold that we ate our breakfast in the car with the heat on. It was deemed unsafe for us to hike very far. We piled back into the car for the drive to Mount Rogers, Virginia.
Rogers requires a hike, and while it isn’t a very difficult hike, it is about eight miles round trip. Excited to finally be out of the car and to get our legs moving, we set off in the brisk cold.
Three quarters of a mile from the summit, the weather came in. Since Rogers is the tallest mountain in the area, it has a tendency to collect clouds and storms.
We held out for as long as we possibly could, but it became apparent that to continue on would be dangerous. We sadly turned around and made our way back down, having only achieved two of our three goals for the weekend.
However, even in our failure to reach the top, we still had quite a few successes.
My new pack was great to carry around. My hiking boots got broken in a bit. Our dog had a great time flopping around in the snow and getting supremely muddy. My husband enjoyed himself.
We had a good time reaching for the high points, and will continue to do so until we are prepared to hit the big one in Alaska.
By Alyson Hansen