FORT MILL — To be clear, Anne Springs Close is more than aware there’s a greenway in town with plenty of hiking trails.
But the woman wants mountains.
Close, 87, sets out last week to climb Mount Le Conte in Tennessee, the third-highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. A party of 35 people will celebrate her first trip up the mountain 50 years ago, when she went with six children. This time she’ll bring children, grandchildren and even four great-grandchildren.
Close guesses she’s ventured up Le Conte with 100 or so people over the years. It’s a mindset for challenging herself, for keeping fit, for embracing nature – especially now.
“When you get my age you have to,” Close said. “If you lose it, it’s not coming back.”
Last month, Close climbed Mount Washington for the second time. The first was in 1939. Ken Driggers accompanied her on the more recent trip to the 6,288-foot top of the New Hampshire peak, the highest in the northeastern United States. An attempt on the mountain came last fall, but the group packed it in when they found 70-mile-an-hour wind gusts.
“That’s a small hurricane,” Driggers said. “Mount Washington is known to have the world’s worst weather. The highest wind gust ever recorded was at the peak of Mount Washington.”
An attorney and outdoors blogger at outsideeasy.com, Driggers met Close two decades ago when they formed a nonprofit together. They’ve been hiking ever since. The Washington climb was a “remarkable achievement” for Close in particular, Driggers said, due to the roughly 1.5-mile section of rocks where the team couldn’t carry any momentum. “Each step was a new step,” he said.
“It was a struggle,” Close said. “It was hard for me, but it was sort of a challenge.”
The next challenge is Mount Le Conte.
Christi Ponder takes reservations for LeConte Lodge, a good stone’s throw from the 6,593-foot summit. She knows Close by name. Ponder said Le Conte’s challenges aren’t high winds, but often high heat and humidity in the summer.
“It helps to know what you’re getting into,” Ponder said.
The Tennessee mountaintop is a popular destination for hikers, even middle-aged to older ones. A 50th or 75th birthday sometimes brings hikers in to test and challenge themselves, Ponder said. Even still, there aren’t too many on Close’s plateau.
“Surprisingly, we do see people in their 70s,” Ponder said. “I don’t know how many are in their 80s.”
Close trains for mountain climbs and other athletic efforts as one might expect, by hiking the many greenway trails and swimming daily miles at the recreation center both bearing her name. The reason Close committed to so many outdoor and recreation opportunities in Fort Mill through the Anne Springs Close Greenway is the same reason she’ll be lugging so much family to the top of her next mountain.
People who experience nature the way she does will want to protect it, too.
“If they enjoy it,” Close said, “they’ll want to take care of it.”