Monday, June 23, 2014

Whiteside Mountain

Whiteside Mountain, near the town of Highlands in the mountains of North Carolina, is one of my favourite spots in the southern Appalachians. Years ago, when I lived in Athens, Georgia, I used to drive up fairly often—the sheer granite cliff that gives the mountain its name was the nearest peregrine eyrie, and I would watch the birds' comings and goings for hours on end, usually getting a wicked sunburn in the process. My contact lenses would get so dry in the bright light and wind that on at least one occasion, I was tempted to use lemonade for eyedrops. Peregrines were worth the drive and the discomfort.

It had been at least sixteen years since my last visit, but when Jessica and I began planning our trip to North Carolina, I made sure that Whiteside was on the itinerary. At the trailhead, I was pleased to learn that the rock face, a popular destination for climbers, was still closed by the U.S. Forest Service on a seasonal basis for the benefit of the peregrines. Eleven pairs of peregrines nested in western North Carolina last year, eight of those pairs on USFS land, but of the eight, only three pairs fledged young.

We began our hike in fine conditions, but by the time we got to the observation platform (actually, a new platform, the old one having apparently been replaced in the interval), heavy cloud had rolled in and the cliff was invisible in the fog. No matter; it was enough to be there, and to know that the peregrines were there too. As has been observed before, "They sure know where to live."

[Photos by Mark and Jess]


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