Hike Up Berea’s Pinnacles Closes Out Spring Break

From left: Essie, Jacy, Gabriel, Llama and Bella.

This weekend marked the final days of what was a three-week spring break for students in the Frankfort Independent School District. With questionable weather most of the break there was lots of gaming, binging on questionable television programming, staying up into the AM hours and waking up late. Finally with warm temps Friday and no rain, I packed a few necessities and herded my two boys, their sister and our stubby-legged dog Essie into the car around 4:30 PM for a drive south to Berea to hike.

Being the boys are in their early teens and Isabella is 6, they don’t come to agreement on much, but once I get them unplugged from digital devices they are cool with gearing up for an adventure. We made one pit-stop to see my dad, who is having some health issues, and currently spending 20 days at a residential rehab facility in Lexington. We stopped by for about an hour to say hello and let pop see my intrepid hikers before they entered the forest.

Lexington is 30 miles south of Frankfort. We zipped there on I-64 East, then backtracked a smidge to catch I-75 South after departing my dad’s place. It was another 40 minutes to reach Exit 76 in Berea. This quaint mountain town in Madison County is home to Berea College, Boone Tavern and recognized globally for its pottery-makers and woodcrafting. Take Highway 21 East into Berea, past the business district and college, continuing on out-of-town 3-miles.

Look for the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center on the left. It sits at the far end of the parking lot where the East and West Pinnacle trailheads are accessed. For GPS, the address is 2047 Big Hill Road in Berea.

The Pinnacles are rated moderate and dog friendly, perfect for Essie’s first foray into hiking. She is a terrier/hound mix, perhaps Jack Russell and Beagle. While not big Essie is a plucky sort.

Slinging a soft-sided cooler over my shoulder, we began venturing up to Buzzard’s Roost at just after 7PM. It starts flat past the Indian Fort Theater, then there’s a bit of a climb until it plateaus after reaching the directional marker midway up. This offers a respite until the last quarter-mile when there’s some trail climbing before topping out.

We saw plenty of folks coming down the mountain, many with dogs. Essie was not on a leash. I brought one but she sensed she had a job to do and stayed on task, not paying these other critters much attention.

We reached Buzzard’s Roost a little before 8PM, just in time to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains. There are several rock outcrops worth exploring here, some more private than others. A few require a short leap of faith to reach, but depending upon your agenda, it can be worthwhile to risk a little jump or two to be left alone. Just don’t fall in a crevasse or miss your footing – it’s a long way down.

Dusk was beautiful. There were plenty of clouds to catch the colors and a stiff wind whipping about to give that accomplished feeling of having reached the top of something high above. We stuck to the safe spots, peering out at the lush valley below. Essie was a mini mountain goat, hopping across rocks and traversing cliff edges without a care.

Now “technically” these trails close at dusk, but I’ve always found that to be more of a suggestion, as the gates to the parking lot are rarely if ever locked. Since we got a late start, and barely made it to the top before darkness fell, I saw no reason to beat a hasty retreat. We might as well enjoy our time up there. Besides, we had the mountain to ourselves.

Having begun my college years at Eastern Kentucky University in nearby Richmond, the Pinnacles was a prime destination when blowing off class. “Party on the Rocks” was the call to heed. One of my crew’s favorite pastimes was hitting the bars until close, then packing coolers of beer and heading up the Pinnacles at 1AM. Night hiking rules!

The loss of light on this trip seriously upped our adventure quotient for the kiddos. We sat near the edge of Buzzard’s Roost as the blanket of darkness settled upon the mountain, taking in the air until we no longer could make out the individual elements below. Around 9PM we decided it was time to start our journey down.

I huddled my troops to give all a hug and remind them we were in no hurry, to watch their footing, land each step safely and beware of tree roots. Those suckers can grab your toes in the dark. But most importantly, let’s have fun going down.

Essie really earned her keep on the descent, taking point and guiding our route. As the mountain had yet to feel the embrace of spring, the trees remained leafless, allowing extra moonlight to pour through and illuminate our path.

We stopped several times to admire the serene beauty of the stark forest in its wintry fashion. Slow and steady we trotted down. Gabriel and Jacy went into survivalist mode in this semi-wilderness environment. Meanwhile I kept my little girl’s hand in mine to be sure she felt secure. Some 90 minutes later we reached the parking lot without incident.

I was happy to see the kids display a sense of satisfaction for their accomplishment. Considering the scary movies they watch, their imaginations could have gotten the better of them in the darkness of Friday the 13th, but we all had a blast with this nocturnal journey.

Once back in the car we hot-footed it out of Berea in search of food, pulling into Tolly-Ho a little before midnight. This late-night institution specializes in fortifying intoxicated college students from the University of Kentucky. The Super-Ho with bacon and cheddar tots will satisfy. Bella opted for pancakes and bacon, a solid choice to fill a hungry mountain-sized appetite.

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