Retired Physician Tackles Black Mountains’ Toughest Trail at 75

Retired physician David Cort didn’t even know where the monthly High Peaks Trail Association’s hike was planned when at church he asked long-time hike leader Dennis Smith if he could join the group’s March 16 outing.

To his surprise, the hike was one of the club’s longest and hardest of the year – a climb of nearly 4,000 feet up the Woody Ridge Trail to the crest of the Black Mountains, and then down the Bolen’s Creek Trail for a distance of nearly 9 miles.

“I had forgotten how hard Woody Ridge is,” said Cort, who had hiked the trail a couple of times previously but several decades ago. “I was out of breath and pushing as hard as I could, but once we reached the top it was worth it every bit.”

Cort’s stamina and determination impressed Smith.

“David is 75 and to be able to climb the Woody Ridge Trail and complete a 9-mile hike is an inspiration,” Smith said. “We have much younger hikers who struggle on that trail and at that kind of distance. What David did was pretty amazing – especially since he had a total knee replacement a couple of years ago.”

Joining Smith and Cort on the hike were Jenny Boyd Bull and Gail Pace.

“They were in great shape and just scampered up the trail,” Cort said. “I slowed them down, but they waited for me.”

The Woody Ridge track includes a couple of scrambles on sheer rock faces, one so steep it requires a rope attached to a tree for assistance. The outing was made even tougher by the weather – temperatures in the 20s and howling winds of 30 to 40 mph – along with patches of ice in the trail.

“Thank goodness Dennis brought extra hats and mittens,” Cort said. “We needed them.”

Cort has lived in Burnsville for decades and practiced as an Internal Medicine specialist and also as an Emergency Room physician in Spruce Pine. His wife, Carolyn – who passed away three years ago – was a pediatrician known and loved by many Yancey and Mitchell families.

The family took occasional hikes and camped a few times in the Great Smokey Mountains, but were not avid hikers. Cort said he cuts firewood and walks his dog to stay in shape now, but might need more conditioning in advance if he attacks the Woody Ridge Trail again.

“When I got home I was going down some steps and almost fell because my muscles had turned to mush,” he laughed. “But by the next morning I was okay.”

Smith said most High Peaks hikes are not so challenging, and he hopes more people might join the club on some of its outings.

“We actually do two hikes a month now, one strenuous but the other a stroll that is designed to be an easier walk,” he said. “We are blessed with gorgeous scenery and hiking is excellent exercise, so we hope folks will join us.”

Photo info: Photo by Dennis Smith. Retired physician David Cort, center, with Gail Pace, left and Jennie Boyd Bull, right, on the Crest of the Black Mountains after climbing the challenging Woody Ridge Trail.