Ascent of Saint John the Baptist Parish High Point on 2004-12-27

Climber: Scott Surgent

Others in Party:Beth Cousland
Date:Monday, December 27, 2004
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Saint John the Baptist Parish High Point
    Elevation:25 ft / 7 m

Ascent Trip Report

A long report for a low highpoint...

Beth and I were in Louisiana for the Christmas holidays, and naturally, trying to visit some of the parish highpoints, mostly with no luck. However, the highpoint of St. John the Baptist Parish apparently is an exception. The highpoint is a sand bar that rises to 25 feet elevation and apparently is not altered or covered over by a levee. Not only that, there's a road close to it. Given all the other fascinating distractions this part of the state has to offer, we surrounded the 10-minute visit to this highpoint with about three or four days of other fun activities.

Beth and I actually arrived in the area three days earlier, coming to the towns of Gramercy and Lutcher on the 24th (Christmas Eve) to view an amazing spectacle: dozens of massive log pyres lined along the levees, set alight as the sun set, to herald Christmas. Apparently this is a tradition dating back over a hundred years. We arrived about 2 in the afternoon and sat in the truck until 7, when the pyres were lit. Thousands of people were in attendance, walking along the levees and taking in the sights, as were we. The weather was very cold, in the mid 20s, and the fires felt great. Some pyres were 20-30 feet tall, and the builders take pride in building them to burn with maximum efficiency and ferocity. You obviously don't just pile up a bunch of logs. There's an art to it. Beth tells me some families do this as tradition and each has their own style.

Aside from the pyres, the levees and nearby roads were choked with vendors and people out for the experience. Local families would set up stands selling home-cooked meals. I bought a chicken dinner meal in the best of traditional soul-food cooking from one of the local families, and the food was wonderful. Seriously, I could have moved in with them just for the food alone.

So we watched the pyres from our truck as well as walking among them, and we hung out until about 10 p.m. At some point the cold started to get to us and we wanted to get to our hotel, which we'd booked in the small community of Laplace about 30 miles west of New Orleans along Interstate-10. The plan was to visit the St. John's parish highpoint on Christmas Day, on our way to New Orleans.

Well, Christmas Day started with freezing rain, sleet and snow. Sections of Interstate-10 had been shut and the main bridges were being shut due to ice conditions. This forced our hand: we got our fannies into New Orleans before they shut the whole interstate, which they actually did for half the day. We skidded and slid into town and took refuge at a casino, where we each won about $30, paying for a Christmas meal and a movie later on. We walked around the area, but the conditions were biting and most people stayed in. This was the first snow in New Orleans in 15 years and the first time it ever snowed on Christmas Day.

The next day was stupendous: clear, with temperatures in the 50s. It's like the snow never happened. We spent the whole day walking the roads around the French Quarter, going into the shops, checking out the statues, and playing tourist. This was our "official" New Orleans tourist day. We stayed in a hotel near Metairie.

The next day was going to be our "plantation mansions tour" day. These homes date from the plantation era of the 1700s and 1800s, going back to when the French had control of the area. The mansions are interesting, but the humongous oaks that lined the walkways were far more impressive to me. We toured a couple of the plantations and this took up about most of the morning. Once done with the plantations, we drove a couple hours north and ended the day in Natchitoches, where we took a walking tour of the downtown, where their big thing is to string up lights everywhere, and it was very pretty.

Oh yes, the highpoint. That's why you're reading this. We did that this morning before the plantations. We exited Interstate-10 at Gramercy and went over the giant bridge that spans the Mississippi River onto state route LA-18 to a point east of the community of Wallace. From here we left the road and took a dirt road up over a levee and down into the sand-bar area that holds the parish highpoint. The levee itself is about 34 feet elevation (say the maps), while the "natural" highpoint is about 25 feet. The area was open dirt, some trees, some work trucks, a mix. We explored the high ground and figured we visited the highspot at some point, but frankly, we didn't spend a whole lot of time here.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Open Country

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