Because it’s there

I’ve never climbed Mount Pisgah, the iconic, 5,721-foot peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Asheville, because “it” is there — “it” being the 339-foot transmission tower that boosts Pisgah’s God-and-manmade elevation to 6,023 feet.

I’ve stopped at the Pisgah Inn, bought the obligatory Moon Pie at the Country Store, hiked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail which runs past Pisgah. Every time I’ve stopped, spent a moment staring at Pisgah and it’s monstrous metal topper and thought, “Nah.”

But two weekends ago I was passing by, had some time on my hands and thought, “What the heck.”

The trail to the summit is only a mile and a half long (though it does gain 712 feet of elevation, most in the last mile. For the most part — for the first 1.49 miles — it’s a lovely hike. This time of year you hike through tunnels of blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel, with a carpet of wildflowers at your feet. An occasional break in the canopy affords a peek at the surrounding Pisgah National Forest.

Then you hit mile 1.49. Round a bend and —


“It’s something, isn’t it?” said Christine. Christine and Cindy constituted the Mount Pisgah Welcome Wagon. As they stopped for lunch they had situated themselves so they could catch the initial look of horror as hikers caught sight of the horror.

“Boy howdy!” I agreed. I stood and stared at the thing, this massive metal structure more than a football field high reaching into the stratosphere. A sign advised hikers to “Keep Off Tower.” I grew dizzy straining to see the top. I steadied myself against one of its metal legs and tried to look even higher.

“You know, the real view is that way,” Cindy finally said, a touch of annoyance in her voice.

“I think it’s disgusting,” she finally said, trying to break my spell.

“I know,” I tried to explain, “but in a fascinating way. It’s like a bad car wreck. You shouldn’t, and yet you do.”

Years ago I climbed my first 13,000-foot peak in Colorado. As we approached the summit, we could hear people — a lot of people — and music: on the other side of this “remote” peak were a half dozen jeeps and their inhabitants, partying. We had climbed for five hours, they’d driven 30 minutes. That was disgusting. This was beyond the pale. It was even more ridiculous than the “massively ugly” (Fodor’s words, not mine) condo atop Little Sugar Mountain. Who thought this was a good idea? (The U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Interior, it turns out.)

I joined Cindy and Christine for lunch, and we had a thoughtful conversation about the outdoors; I think I’d convinced them that I wasn’t some dig-we-must, development-at-any-cost, tree-feller. Until they got up to leave.

“Oh, oh!” I said, reaching for my camera. “Do me a favor before you leave!”

Christine shrugged. “Sure.”

“Take my picture with the tower?”

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