Elisha Mitchell's Mountain

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

J.G. Machen once wrote:

One thing is clear — if you are to learn to love the mountains you must go up them by your own power. There is more thrill in the smallest hill in Fairmount Park if you walk up it than there is in the grandest mountain on earth if you go up it in an automobile. There is one curious thing about means of locomotion — the slower and simpler and the closer to nature they are, the more real thrill they give. I have got far more enjoyment out of my two feet than I did out of my bicycle; and I got more enjoyment out of my bicycle than I ever have got out of my motor car; and as for airplanes — well, all I can say is that I wouldn't lower myself by going up in one of the stupid, noisy things! The only way to have the slightest inkling of what a mountain is is to walk or climb up it….There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men. (“Mountains and Why We Love Them”).

Another Presbyterian minister who loved mountains and mountain-climbing — doing so with fragile scientific equipment under strenuous circumstances — was the Rev. Dr. Elisha Mitchell (1793-1857). A professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was a chemist, a mathematician, and a geologist, as well as a minister of the gospel. On a geological tour of western North Carolina in the Black Mountains in 1828 (with return visits in 1835, 1838, and 1844), he observed a peak that, according to his barometric calculations, was higher than either Grandfather Mountain or Mount Washington in New Hampshire. That peak was then known as Black Dome (or Attakulla to the Cherokee), and he reckoned its height to be 6,672 feet above sea level. Challenged by a former student as to the accuracy of his observations, he made a final trek up the mountain in 1857 to prove his claim. Last seen on June 27, 1857, he never returned from that trip. His body was found on July 8 by a search party at the base of a waterfall, now known as Mitchell Falls. Originally buried in Asheville, North Carolina, his body was re-interred at the top of the peak he had set his eyes and his heart upon - later named in his honor. With modern altimeters, Mount Mitchell is now reckoned to be 6,684 feet above sea level, the highest mountain peak on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The Rev. Dr. Mitchell now rests above the clouds.