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!
Obligatory selfie, of more or less the same view:
It’s not a shock to see someone chose to leave their mark up there:
Martha wasn’t interested in trying to climb to the very top. Understandably, she was disappointed to have hiked all that way without getting to enjoy the payoff. This gives you a little idea how high you have to go (I’m on the shorter pillar here).
Really fascinating rock formations abound. Makes me want to study geology more:
I have a series of pictures from over the last couple of years of Martha taking a picture of Ben. I was able to add one to the collection this weekend:
Then we were off to the Indian Fort Lookout. We elected to take the shorter route (it’s green on the map above). But note that it’s marked with the jagged “difficult” symbol. They weren’t kidding–it wasn’t that bad thirty-plus years ago, but us old folk had a pretty tough time in a couple of spots.
We survived, though, and made it to what might be the best view of the day. That’s the West Pinnacle, covered in trees, on the left. This is very similar to the view as in the picture of James and Suzanne above.
Finally, we hoofed out to the East Pinnacle. I’ve been there at most once before. Just before you reach the end of the trail, you see these two bodies of water off to the right:
Here, you’re looking east, and you get a much better sense that you’ve reached the mountains. I like this view quite a bit:
Reviews I’m reading suggest that sunrise and sunset are particularly fab times to hit the East and West Pinnacles, respectively. Sounds like another trip or two is in order…
One thing I can’t help but notice, though, is the lack of fall color. It’s a little early, I suppose, and up until the last few days it’s been very warm. Nonetheless, some reds and yellows would have been welcome.
It was the better part of two miles back to the car from that vista, and by that point it was time to go. On the way back home, we saw police cars at the top of every exit between Richmond and Lexington, and soon noticed there was no traffic coming toward us on I-75; everything was getting locked down in anticipation of the arrival of the President, who was leading a rally at EKU that evening. I think we made it past Richmond just before northbound traffic was shut down.
I realized while I was up there that this may have been my last time at the top of the West Pinnacle; if so, I’m glad I was able to be there with my boy. It won’t ever have the same connotation in his life as in mine, but I hope he appreciated being there a little.