Ever hear of a monadnock? Yeah, me neither.
A monadnock is an isolated bit of geography that has survived erosion and now rises abruptly from a level (or sloping) surrounding plain. If you’ve ever laid eyes on North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain you’ve seen a monadnock in all its glory. Same goes for Ayer’s Rock in Australia or Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio De Janeiro. Monadnocks, all of them. Who knew?
Crowders Mountain State Park in Kings Mountain, NC also has monadnocks, albeit less conspicuous ones. But still they reach high enough to offer fantastic panoramic views and their cliffs serve as a playground for technical climbers.
Katie and I arrived early afternoon and had to sit in a parking queue until someone left. This process went quickly, but I am sure not everyone was so lucky. Nonetheless, I recommend you get there early, especially during the time of year when the leaves are turning.
Though I’d like to tell you Crowders was a peaceful place to get a mid-day hike in, I simply can’t lie. This place was a bit of a zoo. Besides the scenario, the single-tracks were loaded with folks having a great time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for everyone enjoying public spaces, especially outdoor ones. But I’m less attracted to hikes where I can’t hear the blowing leaves over the noise of countless chatty folks. I also get bummed out picking up other people’s trash. And I picked up plenty.
But like always, things get better when you let go of expectation. We did two hikes in two days and had a ball. Both days started from the parking lot off Sparrow Springs Road and the trailhead adjacent to the Park Office.
On day one we followed the trailhead to Crowders Trail, heading north. After crossing a paved road, we forked right onto the Rocktop Trail and began the incline. The park map deems this trail “strenuous” and I might agree. But it’s only tough for a short while and you’re not even thinking about it because scrambling over granite boulders is good fun. I kept thinking that this would be an amazing trail to run. Maybe next time.
Rocktop Trail led us to the Tower Trail. We veered right at the split and made our way to Crowders Mountain Summit (1625 feet) and the Overlook. Lots of people, lots of cameras clicking and beeping, and a handful of bored climbers getting a security briefing from a long-winded guide with a thick Spanish accent. “Nobody woke up this morning hoping to die on Crowders Mountain, right?” Um, right.
As we looped back onto Rocktop Trail, two young boys and their dad passed us heading in the opposite direction. They had just been to an east-facing vista. The one with a tiny lizard in his hand told us, “you can literally see the entire world from up there.” His profound comment, however, was offset by him bending down to pick up another lizard. This one, unfortunately, was squashed. He told his brother, “Hey! Here’s that one I crushed on the way up here!” Beauty is never far from ugly.
We wrapped up our five-miler by retracing our steps on Crowders Trail and returned to a significantly less-crowded parking area. The air was cool in the low sun. A slight breeze refreshed my sunburnt cheeks. While Katie changed in the bathroom, I quickly went from shorts to pants in the back seat of the rental car. We charged to Charlotte to try out a new veg restaurant, Fern, where we planned the next day’s hike. Our strategy? Start early and head south. During five trail hours on day two we barely saw anyone – until we finished, that is – when everyone and their mom wanted our parking spot. And who could blame them?