By Mark Holloway
I’ve only ever met one guy who didn’t like the mountains.
To this very day, I don’t get why Charlie would rather be in hot and sticky “Gnat Land” way south of here. The gnat line is an actual place on the map. Connect the dots from Augusta, through Macon to Columbus. Yep, that’s Georgia’s gnat line.
Carol and I lived in Macon and were amazed how driving five minutes to the southern part of the county resulted in gnats invading your eyes, nose, and ears.
The Georgia Mountains renew the soul. The air is fresh. The views cause you to escape to another dimension.
There’s a particular rock face we love to hike out to called Pickens Nose. I’ve lost count how many friends and folks we’ve guided there. Andrew Pickens was a revolutionary war general who knew the mountains and foothills of this area well. There may have been a particular feature on his face, which later inspired the naming of this hiking and rock climbing hotspot. I’m not sure. I’ll leave that to interpretation.
What I am sure of are the views, the solace, and the beauty. You’ll be hiking in the Nantahala National Forest, and once you reach the ridge line at Pickens, you’ll be at 5,000 feet elevation. There’s a very drivable forest service road just off U.S. Highway 441, five minutes north of the Georgia-North Carolina state line. The drive from our home in Rabun County to the parking area and trailhead is fun, easy, and quick.
You certainly don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy this wonderful escape, but it helps. The approach to our favorite climbing spot leads you directly to the top of the rock face where we set our rigging and lower the gear. Then there is trail leading down through a cut in the mountain to the staging area where we cheer on climbers, eat lunch, laugh, and soak in the adventure.
Rock climbing means different things to different folks. That’s because the sport offers a number of techniques. We mostly top rope. That’s where you are safely harnessed to the a belayer. A belayer is the guy and gal skilled in keeping you secure as you ascend and descend. Trad, lead, sport, and free climbing are other ways to enjoy a rock face. The doctors, lawyers, coaches, teachers, athletes, and friends we’ve guided enjoy top roping the most.
In all the years of guiding and of all the people I’ve belayed, my favorite climbers are those afraid of heights. I was belaying a group of attorneys who’d never climbed. The loudest and most boisterous in the bunch, John, soon lost his bravado and his voice got higher with each foot he ascended. Ultimately, we coached him to the top and safely lowered him back to the staging area for high fives and lunch. The climber who overcomes her or his paralyzing fear of heights earns my admiration. Just before we pack up to leave, I recognize the best climber and then announce the Belayer’s Award which goes to the climber who overcame their obstacle.
When God made mountains, he knew there would be folks who’d come… folks whose hearts in need of refreshing, muscles and lungs needing a challenge, and fears needing closure.
Come test the terrain. Come rise to your own challenge. Come explore and breathe.
See you on the trail.
Mark is an Ironman, adventure writer and climbing guide in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. He and his wife own Fresh Start Property Stewards, taking care of upscale luxury mountain lake homes. Adventure guide 706.490.7060