Duniskwalguni is a Cherokee Indian word that means “forked antlers”. It is the name that they gave to the Chimney Tops mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains. My college buddies and I hiked to the top of the Duniskwalguni on a sweltering Summer day in 1992.
Brian Myers was the outdoorsman of the group. Brian was a husky young man. He was the type of boy that was always picked first for backyard football games. He enjoyed fishing, camping, starting forest fires, sinking boats and other such fun activities. I’ll write more about those adventures with Brian in other childhood stories.
Arron Crailie aka Curley got his nickname from grandma Isabel. The first time they met, grandma couldn’t pronounce Crailie, so she said Curley. The name stuck. From that time on, everybody at DeVry, and half of Columbus, Ohio knew him simply as Curley. Curley was a fairly sizable young lad. We rarely played football when both Curley and Brian. I knew I couldn’t pick both of them for my team, and I didn’t want to risk being smushed.
We referred to Brian Green simply as Buzz. We did this mainly because there was already a Brian in the group, and we needed a way to differentiate between the two. I’m not sure where the name Buzz came from. He already had the name when he moved from the Philidelphia slums to Columbus.
Greg Wine was known as the Weasel. It wasn’t a very endearing name to call somebody, but we all felt comfortable using it since he gave it to himself. The Weasel wasn’t as large as Curl and Brian, but compared to my 150-pound physique, he was a hulk.
This trip started much like many of the other getaways. Our very first vacation together in 1990 was to Toronto Canada. That was not a Myers type vacation as the only thing he hated more than big cities was Canada. Being half Canuck, I could have taken that as an offense, but I never did. The next year, we went on a beach vacation to Bar Harbor National Park in Maine where the water temperature was 55 degrees in the middle of Summer. Being half Canuck, I didn’t find it too uncomfortable. The other boys would have likely preferred the warmer waters of Virginia or some other Southern State.
At any rate, 1992 was Brian’s turn to plan the vacation. Being the great outdoorsman that he was, he decided that we should have no beaches, no funny Canadian accents and no cities with a population larger than our school. This vacation would be all about tall trees, tents, campfires and cool Mountain streams. The theme that stuck from the previous year was the return to a National Park. After minutes of deliberation, Brian finalized our destination. We were headed for the Great Smoky Mountains.
Being poor college kids, none of us owned a vehicle reliable enough or big enough to take four husky boys and a toothpick on the long drive from Ohio to Tennessee. We saved up enough money to rent a Jeep Cherokee for the week. Driving a Cherokee into Cherokee Indian country wasn’t intentionally planned, it just worked out since that was the cheapest vehicle we could get that would fit four colossal boys, a bean pole, and our bulky camping gear. With all our money spent on transportation, the rations for the trip consisted of frozen hot dogs, stale buns and a few ketchup packets that Buzz snagged from his job at Ponderosa.
It was my idea to leave camp early in the morning and head for the Chimney Tops. My only hiking experience in the Smoky’s prior to this was twenty years earlier. That’s when dad pulled me up the paved Clingmans Dome trail in a little red wagon. I was now older and in much better shape, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard. Despite the sign at the trailhead that described the strenuous nature of the hike, I was able to convince the others that I’ve hiked in these mountains before, and they are not nearly as formidable as the warnings make them out to be. It didn’t hurt that Curley didn’t see the signs at the trailhead or read the pamphlets at the ranger station.
Curl was a city boy, and not as excited about a hike in the mountains as I was. In fact, he wasn’t a big fan of hiking, camping, or frozen hot dogs on stale buns. He just wanted to get the two-mile hike over with so he could return to the hot tent after a sweaty hike on a sweltering day. What better comfort for a back and legs made sore from the trek could there be than a nice thin sleeping bag rolled out on the sharp Tennessee rocks where we had pitched our tents. Since it was a short two-mile hike, we didn’t bother bringing snacks or a lunch with us. The frozen hot dogs that awaited us back in the camp were all the nourishment we should need after a quick jaunt up the mountain.
After an hour of climbing, Curley stopped to catch his breath and threaten to throw me off the mountain. We convinced him that the summit was just around the bend. We failed to tell him which bend it was just around and we hiked upward. The next hour brought more aches, pain, sweat, and threats, but by now Curley was too exhausted to actually pick me up and throw me off the mountain. We were two hours into the hike and the rocky peaks which looked like forked antlers were within sight. All of us including Aaron Curley got our second wind and would be standing on the top of the Chimney Peaks within a half hour.
There was no trail for the last fifty yards. A hazard sign at the end of the marked trail suggested you not proceed onto the rocky cliffs to the summit. The climb was much more difficult than the brochures and signs had described, but the view from the top made all of the aches and pains worthwhile. The view transformed Curley from the inside out. His anger melted away as he stood there looking out over the valley below.
Mark 9 tells a story about when Jesus took his boys for a hike up a tall mountain. The bible doesn’t describe the mountain or the difficulty of the hike, but I imagine it was not an easy walk. The story focuses on the great reward the disciples had for following Jesus up the rocky trail. What they saw on top of the mountain made all of the aches and pain of the hike so insignificant that it wasn’t even mentioned. If you decide to follow Jesus, life will not always be easy. Times may get rocky along the way, but if you do follow him, the rewards will be so awesome that you will not even consider what you went through to get to the mountaintop. Only He can transform your pain and suffering into joy and gladness.
Mark 9:2-4 The Message
Six days later, three of them did see it. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.