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Hike the Seven Sisters peaks with the museum
The Seven Sisters mountain range ascends in the backdrop of Black Mountain and Montreat. A familiar sight from Lake Tomahawk, the seven peaks form a northwestern wall between the Asheville Watershed and the Swannanoa Valley.
Known in common parlance as the Seven Sisters, the mountains are referred to as the Middle Mountains in U.S. Geological Survey maps. As distinguished as the seven sisters of Greek mythology and the women’s liberal arts colleges that form the “seven sisters” in the Northeast, the local Seven Sisters have their own names.
Historically, the seven peaks have been called, from west to east, Tomahawk (or alternately, Solomon Morris) at 3,680 feet, Little Piney (or Stomping Knob) at 3,960 feet, Big Piney (or Brushy Knob) at 4,180 feet, an unnamed peak at 4,360 feet, Forked Ridge Knob at 4,511 feet, Little Slaty at 5,000 feet, and lastly Big Slaty (or False Greybeard) at 5,260 feet.
While the Seven Sisters span an expanse of only three and a half miles, hiking up to and across the range is a strenuous distance of 8.5 miles. On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will lead a daylong hike across all seven peaks.
The hike will commence at an elevation of 5,177 feet and follow the Old Mount Mitchell Motor Road to the Rocky Knob trailhead. After scaling Rocky Knob at 5,240 feet, the hike will progress to Greybeard Mountain at 5,408 feet before scaling each of the Seven Sisters.
Along the way, the museum’s experienced hike leaders will share historical anecdotes about the peak’s nomenclature, social history, geography and ecology. For instance, Stomping Knob’s name derives from the mountain’s purported connection with moonshining. Solomon Morris was the name of a dairy farmer on the eastern slope of the mountain, on property now owned by Billy Graham, who owns much of Little Piney Cove to the east.
Indeed, much of the landscape surrounding the Seven Sisters is privately held. The Asheville Watershed encompasses the western side of the range, while the Mountain Retreat Association, the parent organization of Montreat Conference Center, owns the east side. The hike will afford 360-degree panoramas of these impermissible areas, including the North Fork Valley on the northern side of the range, and the Craggy Mountain Range and the Swannanoa Valley on the south side.
From the summit of Little Piney at 3,960 feet, the hike will proceed across the ridgeline to the Tomahawk’s peak before descending into Montreat.
Although many recognize the Seven Sisters, few have hiked the range due to the difficulty of terrain and distance. But the hike is personally gratifying and bucket list-worthy for a locals. As hike leader Marilyn Kaylor said, “The ridge is rugged, wild, scenic, and challenging. On my first Seven Sisters hike, we scared a bear off its mid-trail resting place. It will take all day, and at the end you will be ready for a hot shower.
“You will also know that you have hiked the ridge that you see every day on your drive through Black Mountain.”
The hike is recommended for experienced hikers. The cost of the hike is $20 for members of the museum and $30 for nonmembers. Advanced registration is required. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum. Participants should wear sturdy hiking boots, dress in layers, and pack a lunch, snacks and plenty of water.
The hike will meet at the Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St. at 8 a.m. To register, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 699-9566.