I always participate in the First Day Hike event and usually do something simple, no more than 2 miles and usually with other people. This year I had planned to do something bigger, a 7 mile loop at Stone Mountain State Park. However, the rain in the forecast in my area made that a less than safe activity. Still, I knew I would feel as though I missed out if I didn’t go for some kind of hike.
So I ventured out with my goretex coat and boots and picked a shorter 4 mile loop at Morrow Mountain State Park, specifically the Fall Mountain Loop Trail. While I have been to the park numerous times, I somehow have never experienced this beautiful trail that features a variety of terrain and views. I chose to follow the trail counter-clockwise and started out along Lake Tillery then headed up Fall Mountain, an elevation gain of only about 550 ft. The climb up involved a few switch backs and passing through a field of rhyolite rocks that reminded me of a field of diamonds or more realistically, snow piles that have begun to melt.
At the top, I stopped to take some pictures and felt as though I was being watched. I turned around and sure enough I saw this beautiful buck. We spent more than a few seconds staring at each other before he was joined by another buck and they both ran up over the top of the hill. Later on I crossed paths with a group of two does and their five offspring. It brought me a sense of peace to have encountered these lovely creatures on the hike. There were a few stream crossings – thank goodness for my boots! And just as I rounded the end and saw my car in the parking lot, the heavy rain moved in. I made it back just in time. Though the signs say 4.1 miles, my tracker clocked me at 4.5
Along the backside of Fall Mountain, I happened to notice a manmade spire. Upon closer inspection I discovered this was a burial site for the Kron family, who I would learn more about after my hike. As I drove up the road from the trailhead I found a road off to the right that led up to the Francis Kron Homesite, established in 1834 by the first doctor in the Piedmont area. The buildings have been reconstructed on their original sites, including his home, his work building, and a greenhouse. The site of his garden still remains behind the house. I spent a while looking in the windows and reading the educational markers. I contemplated what it must have been like to be a physician in that time and to be raising two young girls, and influencing the agricultural market by assisting in the building of a market road from Stanly County to Salisbury. What a remarkable person.
The weather cleared up on the 2nd so I woke up extra early and headed for my originally planned hike at Stone Mountain State Park. I made my way up the freeway before dawn in the fog. It was an exciting and eerier drive, knowing what lay before me.
When I arrived at the trailhead, there were only three other vehicles in the parking lot, and I was on the trail just before 8 o’clock. I had done some reading up on the hike and knew that the “better” direction would be counter-clockwise. Within a half mile, I met up with a series of steep steps (say that five times fast) intermingled with steel ropes along the vertical rock face of Stone Mountain. The climb was grueling but the reward was worth it.
The walk along the back side of Stone Mountain was peaceful. The sun started coming up higher above the treeline and made for a beautiful, easy walk to Stone Mountain Waterfall. I had been to the waterfall back in November 2019 with someone very dear to me and it brought up a lot of fond memories and made my heart happy to be back in a place that holds special meaning for me. Those stairs, though! Last time we walked down to the bottom, and then climbed back up them. I was grateful to only be going down this time.
From the waterfall, I walked back toward the face of Stone Mountain, close to the Hutchinson Homesite, though I didn’t stop to tour it this time. Instead, I hooked a hard left and headed back up toward Cedar Rock. The incline here was just as grueling as the first climb and this time I was going vertical at the 5.5 mile mark instead of the 0.5 mile mark, so my legs were protesting. My lungs were screaming. My mind was arguing with me.
I had to stop and remove my pack and my jacket and take a few moments to recenter myself. My first thought was to stop and turn back, this was too hard, I couldn’t keep going because my legs couldn’t handle it. Then I took inventory of my body’s signals and realized that yes, my legs were tired, and I was very sweaty, and my feet were swelling. But none of this meant I couldn’t keep going. My mind was playing tricks on me and all I needed to do was remember that my body is strong and I’m capable of so much. I packed my jacket into the pouch on the outside of my pack, clicked my pack back into place and grabbed my poles. Every step up was one step closer. I kept telling myself, “Your body can do anything. Just put one foot in front of the other. This is just walking. Your body can do anything.” And before I knew it, I was at the top of Cedar Rock!
I continued on toward Wolf Rock where I was greeted by a view even more spectacular than on Stone Mountain. Knowing I only had about 3/4 of a mile left to get back to the trail head, I decided to stop for a while and rest. I took off my boots and sat with some apple slices and grapes. I even found peace enough to journal about the journey up. The trek was difficult, but my will was stronger. I focused on my mental and physical determination and how the toughness I found deep within could be applied to so many areas of my life.
After I absorbed all I could of the energy of the space, I put my boots back on and made my way back down the hill toward the place where I had started five hours earlier. I’ve done some difficult hikes this past year, and none of them compare to some of the difficulties I’ve faced in life. The achievements of hiking are small in comparison, but I know I can be successful if I keep moving forward. Rest when necessary, but never give up.
One of my goals for First Day Hikes is to set my intentions for the new year, for the things I want to accomplish in the next 365 days. The lessons I gained on these two hikes inspired me to focus on finding peace with where I’m at but to continue pushing myself to go farther, to take the difficult steps to get where I ultimately want to be, and to know that I am fully capable of doing anything if I just don’t get in my own way. Happy New Year! Happy Hiking!