Little Rock has a treasured mountain in its back yard, and I climb it just about every chance I get.
As mountains go, I suppose it is on the small side—a little over a thousand feet—but, hey, it’s a mountain, and we don’t have any Rockies or Appalachians or Alps available around here. A thousand feet is nothing to sneeze at, but even if you do, it’s our mountain, Little Rock’s mountain, and we’re proud of it. Our massive cone-shaped, volcano-look-alike Pinnacle has always been the favorite around here. I climbed it in my youth, and I am still climbing it now in my fifties—and so are a whole lot of other folks.
The majority of visitors to Pinnacle Mountain State Park scale the forbidding heights using the West Summit Trail. The trailhead begins in the nicest park-like area, complete with playground, a big field for Frisbee and soccer, picnic tables, pavilions, bathrooms—and all of that is enough to bring in the crowds. But the trail itself, while still quite a climb, is for the most part a doable walk to the top (some of the more athletic types run), and the views on the west side are spectacular. It is this trail that makes the mountaintop accessible to so many—to the young and not-so-young, families, out-of-towners, school groups, church groups—a lot of people love this mountain, and this is the trail by which they know it.
I, on the other hand, prefer the trail less traveled by, the East Summit Trail, and it definitely makes all the difference for me. It is said to be the steepest trail in Arkansas. The first part of the trail is fairly easy-going: a pleasant climb-stroll-climb-stroll through the forest—you may surprise a whitetail deer or two, exchange easy howdy-do’s with a box turtle in the middle of the path, and there are buckets of shade, birdsong, squirrel chatter—the Natural State at its best.
About ten minutes into it, however, a big red-and-white sign pops up at an abrupt turn in the trail, warning climbers not to toss rocks on the heads of those below. Its subliminal message, supported by the sudden appearance of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol to its immediate right, is clear: “THE TRAIL FROM THIS POINT FORWARD IS VERY NEARLY VERTICAL. NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART OR WEAK OF KNEES. BOULDER FIELDS, ROCKY CLIFFS, SLIPPY-SLIDEY-STUMBLEDY PLACES. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?” Yes, doggone it, of course we are. Bring it on!
The sign wasn’t kidding. The mountain here is begging to be climbed, not lolled about on. It is a pinnacle after all. I met a traveler recently (not from an antique land, by the way) who said he was attempting to climb this trail without the use of his hands. Perhaps I will try it someday. I would venture to say, however, that 99.99% of the people who tackle Pinnacle’s East Summit Trail use their hands with gusto, grabbing this tree trunk, that rock hold, moving over the boulders and granite-slides on all fours at points, just like the intelligent little lizards one meets along the way (but unlike the occasional tarantula, who moves about on all eights, of course).
Climbing the east side I just about always get to see the sun rise—Arkansas River in the foreground, a moving mist or fog running in and out and over the lower hills and through the creek and river bottoms—and I just about always go through the routine of telling myself I should bring a camera some time.
I don’t know which I cherish more when I reach the summit—the eternal breeze, graciously cooling me and wafting the resident buzzards at the same time; or the 360°-view of the Arkansas River valley, Little Rock skyline, Lake Maumelle, and the Ouachita/Ozark Mountains—most days you can see Petit Jean Mountain, Mt. Nebo, and Mt. Magazine thirty, fifty, and seventy-five miles west of here respectively.
There are other trails and other things to do at the park—the Kingfisher Trail meanders by the Little Maumelle River with its knobby cypress knees; the Arkansas Arboretum trail features plants and trees from every corner of the state. The two-mile Rocky Valley Trail, which picks up at the Visitor Center, is a good hike through river-caned bottom land, stone-covered forests, and scenic-view highlands . The lovely and level Base Trail scoots around the foot of the entire mountain, and the nationally-acclaimed 250-mile Ouachita Trail, which ends up in eastern Oklahoma, starts here in the park as well. There are guided tours, kayak/canoe tours, mountain bike trails, horseback rides, fishing—it’s certainly one of the greatest parks in the Little Rock area and in all of Arkansas.
But actually climbing Pinnacle—to the top and back—will always be the attraction for me. I can’t get enough of it. I am tired every time I climb it, but I will never tire of it. It seems natural to me—make the coffee, pull on the boots, and climb Pinnacle. Why else have a mountain in your hometown’s back yard?