Matt Crumpler, a 35-year-old anesthesiologist at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, lives in Greenville with his wife, Allyn, and their two children, Ben and Ellison. As a young boy, Crumpler spent countless weekends exploring the Smoky Mountains with his dad, developing a passion for the outdoors that led him to the most epic adventure of his life. In March 2002, Crumpler paused his college career to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Here, he shares the joys and challenges of his experience, and his dreams to continue his outdoor legacy:
Growing up in Greenville, my dad took every opportunity to get me outdoors. I remember countless backpacking trips in the Smokies with him, where we would often share shelters with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. I was fascinated to spend time with these bearded, smelly, often eccentric hikers who had decided to spend the better part of a year hiking across the entire East Coast. When they told stories around the campfire, they had this intangible aura of purpose and adventure. Every year I was just as excited about the potential of meeting thru-hikers as I was about the possibility of seeing a bear.
During high school and the early part of college, I spent as much time as I could outside, but my drive to get into medical school often took precedence. I was more likely to be found in the Clemson University library than in the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. Late one evening while taking a study break, I stumbled across a book on the Appalachian Trail. After thumbing through for a few hours, I decided now was the time to fulfill my dream of hiking the trail. Looking ahead, I was sure that my commitments, responsibilities, and excuses would only increase, so I decided to take the spring semester of my sophomore year to do it. On March 8, 2002, I left for Springer Mountain Georgia, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
High Hopes // Bon Secours St. Francis anesthesiologist Matt Crumpler (pictured here at Black Balsam Knob in Pisgah National Forest) hiked the Appalachian Trail during his sophomore year at Clemson, a life-changing experience that continues to reverberate.
My experience on the AT was vast, varied, personal, and collective—the best and worst times of my life occurred on the trail. My journey provided opportunities for adventure, freedom, solitude, and introspection, but at the same time it was an incredible social experience. I was surrounded by a rag tag fellowship of other thru-hikers who came from all walks of life. A common goal drew us out of routine life and into a shared adventure, and I found the relationships I developed with fellow thru-hikers were accelerated and deepened to a level I’d seldom experienced before. We spent many nights by a fire, under the stars, or on a mountaintop laughing about absurd stories or sharing our most vulnerable thoughts with each other. I hadn’t anticipated this aspect of the trail.
My hike was also a fulfillment of a shared dream with my dad. My father introduced me to the outdoors, fostered my love for the AT, and served as my greatest support along the way—so it was only appropriate I bookend the experience with him. He joined me for the first 100, the middle 100, and the last 100 miles of my hike. On August 10, 2002—after hiking 2,215 miles—we woke up before sunrise in Baxter State Park and summited Mount Katahdin in Maine together.
Challenges on the trail came in the form of having the discipline to complete a goal and overcoming the day-to-day trials of being in the wild with minimal support. But each day brought new adventures—opportunities to explore the grand wilderness surrounding us, to explore the small towns of Appalachia, the backbone of America. I left with a renewed sense of appreciation for the world we live in and the people we share it with. Now with a family and busy schedule, it’s more difficult to find time to get up into the mountains. Although it takes more effort, I’ve never once been disappointed by time spent there. It is always restorative and rewarding, and has a way of distilling life down to its most important elements—giving clarity, focus, and perspective that I’d like to think I am able to bring back home. While I still love the the opportunity to slip away for a solo adventure, I find it most rewarding to share these experiences with family and friends.
/// MATT’S FAVORITE HIKES
LOCAL: 30–45 min from Greenville.
Table Rock State Park: Pinnacle Mountain
Little brother of Table Rock. Starts with well-groomed trail adjacent to cascading creeks. Climbs up through rhododendron tunnels to much more solitary rock outcropping overlooks. After climbing to summit, skip along the ridge line connector trail to Governor’s Rock and Table Rock summit.
Distance: 10-mile loop with multiple opportunities to shave off miles with connected trails.
Difficulty: Moderate to advanced. Steep climbs.
Kid-friendly Option: Make a loop of Pinnacle Mountain Trail, Carrick Creek Trail, and Table Rock Trail. Well-groomed loop, approximately 1.5 miles that meanders along Mills Creek with multiple trailside cascades and waterfalls.
SCENIC DAY TRIP: 1.5 hours from Greenville.
Art Loeb Trail—Black Balsam to Shining Rock.
Start just off the Blue Ridge Parkway above Brevard. Art Loeb Trail crosses parkway around mile-marker 420. Easily the most scenic trail in the surrounding area of Greenville. Rolling trail above tree line offers 360-degree views as it summits Black Balsam, Tennent Mountain, Flower Gap, and Shining Rock along the way.
Distance: 8.5 miles out and back with options for easier loops giving opportunity to bypass summits on Investor Gap Trail and Shining Rock Trail.
Difficulty: Moderate to advanced. Exposed trail with moderate elevation gain.
Kid-friendly Option: Stop at Tennent Mountain. Enjoy 360 views with rolling hills. 1.5 mile round-trip.