« PreviousContinue »
ASCENT OF MOUNT MITCHELL, BLACK MOUNTAIN, NORTH
(From The Land of the Sky.*)
The sun is shining brightly, and his golden lances light up the depths of the forest into which we enter an enchanted world of far-reaching greenness, the stillness of which is only broken by the voice of the streams which come down the gorges of the mountain in leaping cascades. Few things are more picturesque than the appearance of a cavalcade like ours following in single file the winding path (not road) that leads into the marvelous, mysterious wilderness. When the ascent fairly begins, the path is often like the letter S, and one commands a view of the entire line-of horsemen in slouched hats and gray coats, of ladies in a variety of attire, with water-proof cloaks serving as riding-skirts, and hats garlanded with forest wreaths and grasses. The guide tramps steadily ahead, leading the pack-horse, and we catch a glimpse of his face now and then as he turns to answer some question addressed to him.
"We wind up the side of the mountain like this for several miles," says Eric, "then we travel along a ridge for some distance, and finally we ascend the peak formerly called the Black Dome, now Mount Mitchell. The whole distance is about twelve miles, and the most of it is steady climbing.
"And it was in this wilderness that Professor Mitchell lost his life sixteen or seventeen years ago, was it not?" I ask.
"Yes, Burnett [the guide] was one of the men engaged in the search for him. He will tell you all about it.
*By permission of the author, and publishers, D. Appleton & Co., N. Y.
The forest around us becomes wilder, greener, more luxuriant at every step. Presently, however, the aspect of our surroundings changes. We leave this varied forest behind, and enter the region of the balsam, from the dark color of which the mountain takes its name. Above a certain line of elevation no trees are found save these beautiful yet sombre firs. They grow to an immense height and stand so thickly together that one marvels how any animal larger than a cat can thread its way among their stems. Overhead the boughs interlock in a canopy, making perpetual shade beneath. No shrubs of any kind are to be found here-only beds of thick elastic moss, richer than the richest velvet, and ferns in plumy profusion. Dan Burnett leads on, and presently we emerge on the largest and most beautiful of the little prairies through which we have passed. This stretch of open ground lies at the foot of the highest peak, the abrupt sides of which rise in conical shape before It is here, Mr. Burnett tells us, that the mountaineers who were searching for Professor Mitchell found the first trace of the way he had taken.
"We had been searchin' from Friday to Tuesday," he says, "and on Tuesday we was pretty nigh disheartened, when Wilson-an old hunter from over in Yancey-said he hadn't no doubt the professor had tried to go down to Caney Valley by a trail they two had followed thirteen years afore, and which leads that way"-he points down into the dark wilds below us. "Well, we looked along the edge of this here prairie till we found a track. Wilson was right he had tried to go down to Caney Valley. We follered his trail fur about four mile, and I was one of them what found him at last."
"He had lost his way," says Eric. "I have seen the spot-they call it Mitchell's Falls now-where he died. A stream of considerable size plunges over a precipice of about forty feet into a basin fourteen feet deep by as many wide. Into this he fell, probably at night."
"But how was it possible to bring a dead body up these steeps?" Sylvia says, addressing Mr. Burnett.
"We brought it in a sheet slung to the top of stout poles," he answers. "Then it were carried down to Asheville, and then brought up again, and buried there "—he nods to the peak above us.
"In the warmth of their great friendship and admiration, people thought that he ought to rest in the midst of the scenes he had explored so fearlessly and loved so well," says Eric. Before long we gain the top, and the first object on which our eyes rest is—the grave.
Besides the grave, the summit is entirely bare.
The view is so immense that one is forced to regard it in sections. Far to the north east lies Virginia, from which the long waving line of the Blue Ridge comes, and passes directly under the Black, making a point of junction, near which it towers into the steep Pinnacle and stately Graybeard-so called from the white beard which it wears when a frozen cloud has iced its rhododendrons. From our greater eminence we overlook the Blue Ridge entirely, and see the country below spreading into azure distance, with white spots which resolve themselves through the glasses into villages, and mountains clearly defined. The Linville range— through which the Linville River forces its way in a gorge of wonderful grandeur—is in full view, with a misty cloud lying on the surface of Table Rock, while the peculiar form of the Hawk's Bill stands forth in marked relief. Beyond,
blue and limitless as the ocean, the undulating plain of the more level country extends until it melts into the sky.
As the glance leaves this view, and, sweeping back over the Blue Ridge, follows the main ledge of the Black, one begins to appreciate the magnitude of this great mountain. For miles along its dark crest appear a succession of conelike peaks, and, as it sweeps around westwardly, it divides into two great branches—one of which terminates in the height on which we stand, while numerous spurs lead off from its base; the other stretches southward, forming the splendid chain of Craggy. At our feet lie the elevated counties of Yancey and Mitchell, with their surfaces so unevenly mountainous that one wonders how men could have been daring enough to think of making their homes amid such wild scenes. Beyond these counties stretches the chain of the Unaka, running along the line of Tennessee, with the Roan Mountain— famous for its extensive view over seven states-immediately in our front. Through the passes and rugged chasms of this range, we look across the entire valley of East Tennessee to where the blue outlines of the Cumberland Mountains trend toward Kentucky, and we see distinctly a marked depression which Eric says is Cumberland Gap. Turning our gaze due westward, the view is, if possible, still more grand. There the colossal masses of the Great Smoky stand, draped in a mantle of clouds, while through Haywood and Transylvania, to the borders of South Carolina, rise the peaks of the Balsam Mountains, behind which are the Cullowhee and the Nantahala, with the Blue Ridge making a majestic curve toward the point where Georgia touches the Carolinas.
It is enough to sit and watch the inexpressible beauty of the vast prospect as afternoon slowly wanes into evening.