Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Traveling to the Highest Mountain

The highest elevation east of the Mississippi is right here in North Carolina.  Our mountains are old, perhaps as old as any others in the world.  Through the millenia they have been eroded and rounded.  They do not have the sharp peaks of the relatively newer Rockies.

Mt. Mitchell is the highest mountain in the east so it naturally became a travel destination for my daughter and me on her recent visit.  Mt. Mitchell is so named in honor of Rev. Elisha Mitchell, a Presbyterian minister and professor of math and natural philosophy at the University of North Carolina.  Elisha Mitchell measured the mountain in 1835.

Mt. Mitchell State Park became North Carolina's very first state park in 1915.  I remember visits to the summit during my childhood, including the more primitive path and the steps up to the top of the tower.  A new observation tower was completed in 2009 along with a wide paved path that allowed handicapped access to the summit.

A view of the observation tower from the path below.

The weather was ever changing and by the time we reached the top the clouds were beginning to encircle the summit.

This is the tomb of Elisha Mitchell.  The cloud cover obscured the mountain views.

The marker noting the elevation of 6, 684 feet.

The clouds moved briskly and we got one decent shot of the mountains from the summit.

This is the road below with a cloud band sweeping past us.  Soon we were in the midst of the cloud.

As you can see, the tomb is situated near the observation tower.  It was not moved or disturbed during the construction of the new tower.

The wide ramp allows handicapped access to the top.

Controversy about the mountain's elevation began almost immediately after Mitchell first measured it.  Senator Thomas Clingman challenged Mitchell's measurements and insisted that he (Clingman) had measured another mountain that was taller.  Several years of loud public arguments followed.  Admitting the possibility that his measurements could be inaccurate Elisha Mitchell took his son and others on a return trip in 1857.  With better instruments he planned to measure the mountain height again.

The group gathered on the mountain and on June 27, 1857, Mitchell left the camp alone to visit the men who had served as his guides on his first trip.  A search party was organized when he failed to return to camp.

Eleven days later a searcher found Mitchell's hat.  The searchers saw Mitchell's footprints and followed them.  Apparently he had tried to walk around a waterfall.  Moss was torn up at the area where he slipped and fell into the water.  His body lay in the crystal clear water in the basin of the falls.  He was found lying face up with outstretched arms.  The waterfall is now known as Mitchell Falls.

Elisha Mitchell was buried in nearby Asheville, NC.  The following year his body was moved and re-buried in a tomb on the mountain's summit where it lies today.

In 1882 the US Geological Survey upheld Mitchell's original measurements and officially named the mountain Mt. Mitchell, declaring it to be the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

General Zebulon Vance (1830-1894) wrote a poem about Mitchell which says, in part:

On the highest peak of a mighty chain
Of hill and mountain fastness,
Where Nature doth per primal rule maintain
Amid their solemn vastness,
There's a lonely grave that the mountain gave
Which the sorrowing moonbeams gently lave.

Whenever we go to Mt. Mitchell I always take a minute to pause at the tomb.  Few people give it more than a cursory glance and perhaps a photograph.  I stand there and wonder about the brave man, his life and his death.  While I have never seen the moonbeams gently lave, the clouds flowing past did indeed seem to refresh and soothe Mitchell's tomb.  And me.


Barbara Rogers said...

Yes, this is also a "pilgrimage-type" place for me to visit. I don't exactly understand how tourists don't have respect for the grandeur that this old mountain represents. At least the park is well maintained.

Rudee said...

I'm taking notes for my next trip south.

Taradharma said...

it is fitting that his body was moved to his mountain.

sounds like a great place to visit.

Vicki Lane said...

The last time I went to Mt. Mitchell, I was saddened by all the dead trees -- victims of acid rain and the wooly adelgid. But it's still a magnificent sight

Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I went to Mt. Mitchell. I was about 8 years old. I drank a grape soda... and promptly threw it up.

You didn't see any grape-colored stains, did you?

I've been since then, of course, and, like Vicki, was saddened by the dead trees.

Did not know the story of Rev. Mitchell. Interesting... and sad. Thanks for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I went to Mt. Mitchell. I was about 8 years old. I drank a grape soda... and promptly threw it up.

You didn't see any grape-colored stains, did you?

I've been since then, of course, and, like Vicki, was saddened by the dead trees.

Did not know the story of Rev. Mitchell. Interesting... and sad. Thanks for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting story. I had never heard of Mt Mitchell before this. I'm always struck by the ones who die doing what they love. I'm sure he did not want his life to end this way, but it did... on the mountain that now bears his name. A beautiful tribute.

Ms. A said...

How interesting, I did not know the story. (I mean the story is interesting, not me not knowing the story is interesting)

Chuckles to Marylee and her soda.

Berts Blog said...

I live in the Rockies and soemtimes we think we have the only real mountains in the states, but this story (history) was so interesting and heartfelt, I now know that there is more out there than my little world.

I love the story of Mr. Mitchel, I would love to see MItchell Falls knowing what I know now. So totally on my bucket list now.

Thank you....

Arkansas Patti said...

Very interesing yet sad story about Mr. Mitchell and his mountain.
Hadn't thought about mountains wearing down but it does explain some questions I have had about the Ozarks and also the mountains in China.

Busy Bee Suz said...

What an interesting story...and a lovely area. I will try to visit the next time we travel to this area.
The tomb? That would make me pause as well.

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Barbara - Thanks for dropping by. Yes, too often the tomb goes almost unnoticed.

Vicki - I too noticed with sadness the dead trees on our last visit. I did not notice them so much on this trip, perhaps because of the fog but I do think they have removed many of them near the summit.

Marylee - Thank goodness they didn't give you a hot dog as well! You'll be glad to know they paved over the purple stain.

Robin - They say that the cold water preserved Mitchell's remains so that the body did not look like one that had been in the water so long.

Bert - Our mountains can't compete with the splendor of the Rockies, but they have a beauty all their own.

George said...

Thank you for the information about Elisha Mitchell and his death. We've seen the grave several times, but didn't know the full story nor of the 'feud' between him and Clingman. The weather you had on your visit looks like the weather we've had the last three times we've been to Mount Mitchell.

Wayfarin' Stranger said...

Excellent piece. Thank you for the information about Mitchell; I didn't know that. We've been close, but haven't actually visited. Maybe we'll do that this summer.

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