Stone Mountain

Elevation: 514 m (1686 feet)
Elevation Gain: 240 m (786 feet)
Stone Mountain is a pluton which formed from a magma upwelling several miles below the earth’s surface over 300 million years ago. Over time, this igneous intrusion solidified to form granite that was eventually exposed as erosion cut away less-resistant rocks. Today, Stone Mountain extrudes 250 m above the surrounding terrain. While the mountain’s natural history is fascinating, its recent and controversial human history is no less-so. The mountain was the birthplace of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and its north face features a massive 1.57 acre Confederate Memorial carving. These symbols are, presumably, the reason that Stone Mountain is referenced in Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech when he states: “let freedom ring from Stone Mountain”.
My Ascents:
May 24 2017.

One of the perks of my job is that I get to travel to some interesting and exotic places to present at conferences. In the past couple years, I’ve been to the UK, Germany, Las Vegas and Spain (twice!). My work has even been good enough to let me bring my family with me and many of these trips ended up becoming memorable family experiences. I’m not sure that anyone considers Atlanta to be either “interesting” or “exotic” but I didn’t say “no” when my boss asked me to fly the company flag at an event in Georgia this spring; in fact, I actually asked if I could bring Brianne and Mera with me because, well, “why not?”

Apart from remembering that the 1996 Olympics were there, I couldn’t really tell you much else about Atlanta. As I looked into Atlanta attractions (to be visited outside of working hours of course!), I discovered that the city was home to the world’s busiest airport, the world’s largest indoor aquarium and, what might be, the world’s least-impressive peak! While Stone Mountain might not be lofty by Rocky’s standards, the hike to its summit still looked to offer a pleasant diversion from the urban sprawl of the US’ 9th largest metropolitan area. As an added bonus, Stone Mountain’s more modest stature made it a great hike for my 1.5 year old daughter (whose own stature is comparable)!

Following the pleasant experience that is air travel with a busy 1.5 year old, we checked into our downtown Airbnb and were treated to this pleasing panoramic view of distant Stone Mountain (center left) beyond Atlanta Interstates. Click to see larger.

When work commitments relented somewhat, we figured that we’d rent a car and drive 30 km (20 miles) east to treat ourselves to a nice hike up a southern summit. Who could have predicted that there wouldn’t be a single rental car available in all of downtown Atlanta?! Frustrated but undeterred, we decided to take public transit (2 subways + 1 bus) to reach our trailhead at the mountain’s eastern foot.

An inauspicious start to our MARTA (Atlanta subway) experience. Since we were travelling with a stroller, we were forced to take UDD-equipped elevators to reach the subterranean stations. The elevator is, apparently, a popular place to relieve yourself on long MARTA trips. What’s worse – the UDDs were clearly not working as our own “detection devices” easily identified a pungent piss stench in the steamy, small, slow-moving lifts! PU!

While the pee-soaked elevator was unpleasant, I have nothing but good to say about the rest of our Atlanta public transit experience. The subway was efficient and easy to navigate while our bus driver was both helpful and entertaining. Without any stress, we easily made our way to the corner of Main Street and East Mountain Street in Stone Mountain, GA. From there a short 0.8 km (0.5 mile) “approach” brought us to the “Walk Up Mountain” trailhead.

After being contained in her stroller for the entirety of our bus/subway rides, Mera was thrilled to be set free at the mountain’s flag-marked base.

Brianne tries to keep up with our little mountain goat.

Following low-angled granite up towards the summit as lush forests carpet the surrounding area in green.

Chewing gum-covered power lines follow much of the route up. These proved to be colorful and disgusting all at once.

“Mera do it!” Our little hiker insisted on tackling the entire hike on her own while I attempted to navigate her empty stroller across the broken granite mountainscape. Eventually, I grew weary of constantly fighting with the stroller and discretely ditched it in the woods! For those wondering, I would not call Stone Mountain “stroller-friendly”!

Mera and Mom take a drink break in a hut about 2/3 of the way up.

After a quick recharge at the hut, Mera was ready to take on the day’s crux (a steep granite slope) with a little help from Dad.

Immediately above the steep crux, Mera laid down and told us that she was going to go “Night night”. Numerous other hikers remarked that they felt like doing the same thing as they continued up to the nearby summit!

Looking west towards Atlanta from the stony summit. Click to see larger.

A closer look at the Atlanta skyline some 30 km (20 miles) to the west.

Small trees and pools of water overlook the densely forested eastern horizon (click to see larger). These small pools are apparently home to an unusual species of tiny shrimp that only appear during rainy season. I’m not sure if there were any shrimp while we were up there because we simply didn’t think to look for marine life on top of a mountain!

A somewhat rushed family summit photo. While we hiked up Stone Mountain, my phone alerted me that the area was under a “tornado watch.” Upon reaching the top, we spotted a rather nasty looking storm to the south (out of sight to the left in this photo) that appeared to be threatening.

Rather than linger in the face of an approaching storm, we therefore beat a hasty retreat. In the end, a sprinkle of rain was all that materialized.

A very nice stroller right where we left it (thank God!).

With the storm gone, we relaxed our pace. Mom saw to it that Mera had fun during our descent while I fought to wheel the stroller across uneven terrain.

Georgia flowers – very different from wildflowers in the Rockies!

By the time that we returned to the trailhead, it was about 2 pm and neither Brianne nor I had eaten anything since 8 am. In search of lunch, we decided to make our way towards the shops/restaurants etc. at the bottom of this map. There was, however, one small problem. Those with an eye for detail might notice that the “West Gate” is on the right side of the map (ie: north is down!). Not realizing this, we set off in the wrong direction making what should have been a 2 km (1.2 mile) walk a 6 km (3.6 mile) death march. Those who think the use of the term “death march” might be extreme have obviously never made a pregnant woman walk 3 times further than needed after already having completed a hike on an empty stomach! Mouse over to see our map miscue. Sorry Brianne! :-(

After a needless circumambulation, we arrived at the shops etc. below the peak’s Confederate carving. Despite the controversy surrounding this monument, it was impressive. What was less impressive was the fact that all of the restaurants had closed by the time that we arrived at 4 pm!

A closer look at the carving: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. While these Confederate leaders had horses, Brianne, Mera and I unfortunately did not! Thanks to our ill-fated search for a late lunch, we were now starving and stranded 3 km (2 miles) from our bust stop without a rental car. Resigned to our fate, we called a cab which arrived some 45 minutes later. After a pleasant experience on transit earlier in the day, we sat in the back of the cab dismayed as the driver gauged us by taking us on much a less-direct route back to our downtown Airbnb. The icing on the gravy came when Mera decided that she’d had enough of the cab ride and broke down crying in the midst of rush hour Atlanta traffic (that could have been avoided by taking the direct route)…

Regardless of the less-than-ideal end to our hike, we all survived and the day’s hardships were a distant memory by the time that we had some good southern fried chicken for dinner (ie: lunch at 8 pm!) back in our Airbnb. Atlanta might not be the most “interesting” place in the world to bag a peak but you can always make your family hike more interesting by taking a couple wrong turns!!!