Climbing Mt. Pisgah

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2019

I thought the highlight of the day would be hearing Al Mohler talk to us writers about the importance of Christian journalism, but my husband had notions of trumping that activity. He proposed we climb a mountain. Early.

Fortified by a round of Chick-n-Minis, we cruised a stretch of the showy Blue Ridge Parkway just outside Asheville, North Carolina. Mountain ranges lit up in yellows and golds filled the landscape, and clouds – like suspended bodies of water – hovered in the empty spaces. Serious fall eye candy. There were cool tunnels, too. I “ahhhed” through the first one and videoed the second for the grands. Not long after we passed through our eighth at Sleepy Hollow (yawn), we saw our destination: Milepost 407.6 – the Mt. Pisgah Trail.

Mount Pisgah is part of the Pisgah National Forest, a sprawling tract of land originally purchased by industrialist George Washington Vanderbilt in the late 1800s. You may know him by his humble abode, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The Vanderbilts used the undeveloped property as a private hunting retreat for family and friends, but later sold some 86,000 acres to the U.S. government for $5 dollars an acre. I doubt George anticipated his generosity would draw hikers in 2019, but it does. Sometimes in droves.

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My first clue that I might be out of my league came in the parking lot at the trail head. Let’s just say we were a Suburban in a land of Subarus. And we forgot our granola. Then there was that sign, the one with the “moderate/strenuous” hike warning. 

Oh, and it was 38 degrees when we set out. Yeah, 38 degrees. The trail was narrower than those I’ve climbed before, with occasional steep, stone steps. Make that frequent steep, stone steps. My husband says it’s typical of those belonging to the Appalachian Trail, but since moms didn’t go on Boy Scouts trips, I wouldn’t know.

I would have liked to stop and smell the rhododendron, but we needed to do the 1.26 miles in about 30 minutes, so we kept a steady pace. I was breathing hard not long into it and wondered why. Thinner air maybe? My husband, in the lead, promised the 360-view at the top would be worth it.     

Still, a 521-foot ascent (that means uphill) with numerous switchbacks isn’t a walk in the park. We shed our coats halfway and barely nodded to the sole hiker we passed. At some point I realized a misstep off either edge would require emergency services that weren’t readily available. Were they?

“That would be a negative,” my husband called back, outlining the probable need for a stretcher, since a helicopter couldn’t land. 

But somewhere along the staircase of beech and birch, I found my “ever onward,” as well as the summit, with its TV transmission tower for the local ABC affiliate and an overlook built by the Youth Conservation Corps in 1979.

What a view. My husband guessed he could see for a clear 40 miles, and he’s a pretty conservative guesser. A guy from Florida sitting on a nearby ledge confirmed these speculations. He was eating granola. (What did I tell you?)

The sun burned off the fog while we took it all in, maybe like Moses did when he scanned the Promised Land from a high altitude. By the way, Pisgah is the Hebrew word for “summit.” That’s why some Bible translators used “pisgah” for Mt. Nebo in the book of Deuteronomy. 

On our way back down the trail, a bird shot out from a patch of bushes. We thought it looked like a turkey, but my husband pressed me for more information.

“What color was it?”

I thought a moment, then offered, “Drab. It was just really drab.” Bad answer.

“Drab’s not a color. It’s an emotion,” he shot back over his shoulder.

“No, it’s not.”

“Well then, it’s an attitude.”

“No, it’s not.”

That exchange proved surprisingly helpful. Debate can be energizing, and that one provided enough momentum to get us to the finish line, where we soon found our land yacht in the sea of Subarus.

And finished off our Chick-n-Minis.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.