It seems almost unbelievable that it has been eight years since I wrote a story that appeared in this newspaper wherein I confessed that I had failed to do several things that I had always wanted to do as a boy.
Foremost among those never-done things was my ambition to go to the top of Duck Hill.
The big hill located just northeast of the Montgomery County, Miss., town named after the closest thing we have in these parts to a mountain has been there alongside U.S. Highway 51 waiting for me to climb ever since I first saw it as a boy. The locals of Duck Hill call it the Mountain. Well, on Saturday, March 1, I finally climbed Duck Hill Mountain!
If not recorded anywhere else, let this story I am now writing record of the event when I, along with about 25 others, went all the way to the top of Duck Hill Mountain and lived to come back down and tell about it.
From the time that I wrote my first story about wanting to climb Duck Hill, I have been talking off and on about doing it. My friend, Bill Hunt, told me that he knew the man who owns the hill and could arrange permission and would go with me anytime I wanted to go. I figured to wait until winter when the trees had lost most of their leaves, and it was cold enough for the snakes to be sleeping.
Each winter since 2006 came and went without me going up the hill. From time to time, I would mention the someday-intended feat in one of my columns and my friend Bill would again extend his standing offer. Finally, it was the newspaper’s Managing Editor Nanette Laster from Duck Hill, who set into action a real plan to scale Duck Hill Mountain.
When I heard that Nanette and some others from Duck Hill who are involved in an effort to preserve the old Binford High School buildings also planned to go to the top of Duck Hill Mountain, I contacted Bill Hunt, and he and I decided to throw in with them.
Nanette made the arrangements and got permission from the landowner, Mr. L.C. Pyles. Because of rain, the scheduled climb was postponed from an earlier date initially set in February, but we had a beautiful day on Saturday, March 1.
We met on the steps of the old high school auditorium, which had been the gym when my Gore Springs basketball team got beat by Duck Hill. We car-pooled and took as few vehicles as possible over to the starting point. I rode with Bill, who, not wanting me to give out before we got started, drove a good deal closer to the mountain than the spot where most of the vehicles parked.
Bill and I waited for the rest of the group, and I started out near the front of the line of climbers, walking with the aid of a good stick that used to be the handle of a garden rake.
I started out with my new friend, Charles Latham from Grenada, along a trail fashioned over time by four-wheelers. I had envisioned climbing through a forest of trees with logs, vines and boulders. At first, the trail was fairly easy going, having mostly dried out from previous rains; however, it was very nearly a steady climb up, and it did not take long for the exertion to take its toll. I could not keep up with Charles, and he went on ahead of me. A lot of folks passed me by, but I kept at it.
Finally, I got to a spot where I could look nearly straight up and see the summit. The trail continued around on a more gradual climb and the climbers at the front of the line were already out of my sight. I looked back and there were not too many behind me. I decided it was time to make my push. Figuring to perhaps fool everyone and be the first to the top, I left the trail and headed straight up through the woods.
Well, thank goodness for the trees and the vines. I held onto the trees and pulled on the vines and climbed and crawled straight up that mountain. I did not look back.
Every so often, I would stand up straight on a log or a boulder but I kept my eyes focused on the top. It was getting nearer and nearer, but I was still pulling and climbing and crawling when I caught the glimpse of my friend Charles already at the top. I was almost there when one of Nanette’s brothers, Larry Laster, called out to me, and I looked up right into the lens of his camera.
Shortly thereafter, I made it to the top. Winded and tired, I sat on a big boulder and looked back down the hill. Only one soul had followed me up the steep, straight-up climb. Mel Corley. Others were still on the trail. Nanette was being helped by Bill. She was using a stick that was longer than she is tall. Others were arriving at the summit. I just sat on the big rock and tried to act like I had been there a while.
The view was magnificent. The solitude was splendid. Nature was in charge and doing a good job on such a warm, beautiful day. We stayed at the top longer than it took us to get there.
I was not the oldest to make the climb. That distinction among the group that hiked to the top of the mountain last Saturday goes to Tony Franks from Winona, who will be 72 in June.
The youngest one making the trek was one of Mr. Franks’ grandsons, Gregory New, who is eight years old. Tony was also accompanied on the climb by grandsons, Jack Garner King, 13, and Garner New, nine. Tony and his three grandsons brought along a bag of chocolate chip cookies homemade by Sara Moore of Duck Hill, who has been to the top of the mountain many times as a Cub Scout leader.
I learned that the trail did not extend all the way to the top, but the route back down to the trail was far less treacherous than the one I had ascended. The walk back down the trail was a breeze. I walked along with Charles on the way down, and we talked the whole way.
Stashed in Bill’s truck, I had a sandwich, which I shared with Bill. He so reminds me of his father, Dr. Bernard Hunt.
All in all, it was a genuinely great day! Thank you very much, Mr. L.C. Pyles, for letting us climb your mountain.