Lord, We Climbed a Mountain

From the executive editor
The Calvary Baptist Church group, minus a few members who’d already started their descent, with Michael Graff on top of Crowders Mountain.

THERE WERE 14 of them, and the only man in the group was the driver, J.R. On the last Saturday morning in August, they met in the parking lot of Second Calvary Baptist Church for a women’s fitness ministry outing, a trip to Crowders Mountain. They were eager to take on the Crowders Trail, a 2.8-mile hike through the red maples and oaks of western Gaston County, about 30 miles west of Charlotte.

Their moods ranged from excited to “Lord, I don’t know about this,” as J.R. Williams pulled the van into the mountain’s visitor center parking lot around 8 a.m. Once on foot, they followed white, diamond-shaped markers for about two hours, their voices carrying through the quiet woods, until they reached the end, where they met the well-known finishing stretch of Crowders: 336 steep steps to the top.

Deborah Young and Pandora Norman gave up first. They stopped on a bench about a quarter of the way up the stair-climb, waving the others on and claiming troubles with their knees. Meanwhile, the two young children in the group, Shamaya and Malachi McCord, both 8, bounded up the wooden steps, unconcerned by anything but how long this was all taking. 

This was a big outing. The women’s fitness ministry usually walks in a neighborhood or park near the church in west Charlotte. Many had never been to Crowders; some had never even walked in a full-blown forest.

The cheers began to build on the top step around 10 a.m. One after another they made it, then rooted for the next person to do the same. Other hikers who were here staring out toward the hazy horizon turned to see what was causing the noise. Some rolled their eyes at the broken silence; others cheered right alongside the church group. The Calvary members stomped their feet on the top step, or raised their arms above their heads, then went to take pictures to prove to people back home that they made it.

Compared to other places in the region and in our mountain travel package, Crowders Mountain’s peak, at just a little more than 1,600 feet above sea level, isn’t all that high, but maybe not everything needs to be compared to something else. 

The cheers grew and grew until 12 of the 14 were here. Only Pandora and Deborah were missing. Among the accomplished were a city bus driver and a department of social services employee. Soon someone noticed what everybody who comes to Crowders notices at some point—you can see Charlotte from here. Even on this fuzzy morning, it was possible. The 12 gathered around one outstretched arm. Shamaya and Malachi mouthed, “Wowww.” Sometimes, to appreciate how wonderful something is, you have to leave it and look back. From up here, the Calvary church members could see Charlotte for what it is: their small place in a big world. 

“It looks like it’s in the sky,” someone from the group said of the skyline.

Just then, a faint sound came from the steps, “Lord, have mercy!” 

The 12 ran over, and someone shouted, “It’s Pandora!” and someone else shouted, “And Deborah!” Knee issues and all, they were almost here. The sound of clapping filled the mountaintop. Some jumped up and down and grinned. Others joined in. Eventually, nearly everyone at the summit was watching the last two church members climb higher than they’ve ever climbed.

And now there were 14 of them again, praising Jesus.

Soon the conversation turned to going back down. Someone said she couldn’t wait to get home and shower.

“You got reason to,” J.R. said. “We climbed a mountain. Ain’t every day.”

Michael Graff

Michael Graff is executive editor of Charlotte magazine. Email him here, or find him on twitter @michaelngraff.

Also by Michael Graff:

The New American Banker: Andree Taylor
The Dark Thoughts of David Joy
First and Last Words
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

Categories: By Michael Graff, In Print, The Buzz