An Adventure and beautiful scenery– that was the promise my dad and younger brother made to me as we made our way to the trailhead for the MacRae Peak hike on Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. It was late in the afternoon before we got to the park on our last vacation day in the Smoky Mountains. We immediately joined the crowds at the mile high swinging bridge and soaked up the view. It was a hot and humid July afternoon, and the stunning view was partially obscured by hazy skies typical of this time of year. Wanting to leave the crowd and get one last hike in, we decided on a “short” but steep trail to McRae Peak that involved using six ladders and several cables to navigate the steep rock sections.
For the first half hour we walked through forest with no views as we gradually climbed up the side of the peak. The fun began when we got to the first set of ladders as we went straight up the vertical face of a rock wall. When we got to top of that first set of ladders, the view opened up dramatically to unfold the dizzying sight of the valley floor thousands of feet below us. At that point we passed some hikers on the way down who were returning from McRae Peak. They said the view was worth the hike, but we would be the last ones on the trail and to be careful. It took us another 30 minutes of climbing on the exposed cliffside before we got to the last ladder leading up to McRae Peak.
When we finally reached the top of McRae Peak, I immediately noticed the dark ominous rain clouds that were coming from the side of the mountain we could not see while climbing up. We hurried up and took some pictures as the wind swirled around us. Suddenly a boom of thunder was released by the heavens followed shortly by a lightning bolt. We realized that we had to get off that peak immediately and hurry back down the sheer Cliffside that we had just come up. My heart started pounding and I could tell I was starting to breathe faster. The wind picked up as we started the process of climbing down the ladders, knowing that if we rushed too fast we could slip and fall to our death. The deafening thunder and lightning were right on top of us now as we felt the first couple of raindrops. There were no trees on this open cliffside, and I was sure that the next lightning bolt would hit us.
After what seemed an eternity, we finally reached the treeline just as the deluge started. We did not have any rain jackets and it rained so hard I could barely see in front of me. The trail down the hillside became a slippery rushing stream of water, but somehow I knew we would be safe now. I became aware of the adrenaline that was pumping through my body and I realized how different this day had turned out compared to my normal life in Texas. When we finally got to the trailhead, we saw a lone car waiting for us in the parking lot with my worried mother inside. I gained a lot of confidence in myself that day, and showed myself that I could power though in tough moments. I also have a new appreciation for the term “Family Adventure”!
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