On Saturday, Martha, Ben, and his friend Matt trucked 50 miles south to Berea with me so that I could revisit a favorite hiking spot from my high school and college days. The Pinnacles trail is on land owned by Berea College, a liberal arts school of about 1600 where all students work in lieu of paying tuition. I first went to this magical place, right where the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains begin, in the late 70s with my church youth group. Ron and Dottie, our leaders, had been going since their college days at Transy earlier in the decade. It became an annual custom for our group. I went there at least three times with them; we’d ship out right after church on an autumn Sunday. In my mind, the weather was always fantastic—sunny and mid 60s. It was a two-hour trip, and given our relative late start, we’d have only four hours or so on the trails. But we always had time to ascend the West Pinnacle to take in its magnificent view, snacking/lunching on top, and hitting the Indian Fort Lookout before heading back to our cars. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Ron and about a half-dozen former youth gathered again in September 85 for a most enjoyable reunion.
I went back there several other times while in college. Last year, I came across the letter I’d sent home after about a month at Transy, in which I shared plans to take several of my new friends to the Pinnacles the following Saturday (thirty-six years ago today). Two years later, I went there with several folks in the group of transfer students I’d helped during Orientation, along with their faculty advisor. And here’s a picture from the parking lot just off the trailhead, from what has to be October 85. This is James, Cathy, Mark, Stacey, and yours truly; wondering who took the picture now.
James, Suzanne, and I went one time after we’d graduated, very likely October 87.
And that was my final time there until three days ago; I’ve been wanting Ben to experience it before he left home, in the fall, like I always had.
The weather was acceptable—cloudy and low 50s (to be honest, a welcome break from the mid 80s we’ve been having). It’d rained overnight, but there was mud only in a few spots. We packed more than enough sandwiches, snacks, and water to sustain us. We arrived to a mostly full parking lot; an arts fair was being held in the wooded area around the base of the trail. This brought back memories from almost forty years ago—it seemed like our youth group visits aligned with this festival more than once.
Here’s our map; we hit three of the labeled points.
As was the custom, we struck out for the West Pinnacle first. At the summit are two huge pillars of rock that stand about four feet apart, one them reaching a few feet higher and affording a much better view if you can scale it. Aye, there’s the rub—you have to shimmy up through a narrow gap to get there. That was no problem for me back in the day, but it was much more of a challenge over thirty years later. I’m still a little sore through my chest and back from pulling myself up!
As you approach the West Pinnacle, the rock formations get pretty interesting.
To get to the top, you have to work your way up through this. Ben, Matt, and I all succeeded.
Here’s perhaps a better view, taken from the top of the shorter pillar; yes, that crevice in the center of the photo is the only way up. As you can see, we weren’t alone up there! Back in the day, I’d jump across to the lower pillar to get down. Ben and Matt did that on Saturday, but I used more discretion and retreated through the gap.
Finally, the view from on top. This is looking mostly west and a little north; Berea is to the left, while Richmond, home of Eastern Kentucky University, is off-camera, far away to the right. You can tell we’re at the edge of the hills!
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