Written in November of 2012. Inspired by a hiking trip on a mountain in the Appalachian chain, during which the photograph at the top of the post was taken.
Excerpted from the summary included in Nightmare on Black Mountain: A Review of the McCoy Peak Footage. Author Carmine Gregory, University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
“My name is Taylor Cuvert, and this is a message for my family.”
“Sandy, I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. I’m so sorry that it has to be this way, but I don’t see any way around it now. I don’t want you to watch anything else on this video. Not under any circumstances. If it comes on TV, I want you to change the channel, and if they give you this tape, then I don’t want you to keep it. I want you to always think of me…as the person you knew while I was alive. You remember that trip we took to Costa Rica, right after college? Remember how the sun beat down on the beach during the day, and how we spent the night together on the pavilion, just watching the moon over the waves? Hopefully I’ll see you again someday, somewhere sunnier than Costa Rica in the summertime.”
“Jordan, you’re my little girl. I want you to be strong for dad, okay? Mom is going to need you to be there for her for a while. I won’t be able to be there for you like I wish I could be, but you have your mom and you have your grandparents to help you out, so I’m not too worried about you. Just keep on keeping on. I know you don’t know about Costa Rica yet, but maybe you can go there when you get older. It’s a beautiful place, and there’s nothing in this world quite like seeing a toucan steal your sandwich on a warm…warm day. Just study hard in school, stay away from sleazy guys in fast cars, and make your dad proud.”
“Maybe I’ll get to give this to you guys in person and we can all have a good laugh, but more likely, I’m not going to make it down this mountain. I miss you both so much right now. Just know that you are always in my heart.”
McCoy Peak, on Black Mountain, is the highest point in the Blue Ridge of western North Carolina. Standing out against the sky at sunset like some ancient, sleeping giant, it’s easy enough to see how Black Mountain got its name. However, the peak’s legacy is more firmly attached to a video clip recovered by the United States Coast during a search following a freak blizzard in early November of 2012.
Taylor Cuvert, along with the husband and wife pair of Jonathan and Carrie Bleak, were caught out in the storm. Why they were on the mountain at all so late in the year, much less near the notoriously dangerous McCoy Peak, is unknown, although hints early in the video suggest that the three may have been looking for some sort of archaeological site on the hill’s northern flank. Given that both members of the Bleak family were instructors of Native American history at the nearby University of Western North Carolina, and given that Taylor was aspiring to the same office, this seems a rational enough assumption.
Regardless, it hardly seems important what the three ill-fated explorers were searching for. No site of historical importance has ever been located on Black Mountain, although the unusual topography and enormous scale of the hill (more of a ridge line than a normal mountain, stretching nearly nine and a half miles east to west) makes it difficult to say for certain what they may have been looking for. Substantially more important are the details of what happened after the group wandered off of the beaten path.
Black Mountain, like most publicly accessible hills in the state, is criss-crossed with hiking trails. One of these, the McCoy Summit Trail, is closed from mid-October through mid-April due to the dangers of winter at altitudes of over 7,000 feet. This, however, did not stop Taylor and his group from traipsing through the line of warning signs and beginning their ascent from the parking lot of the closed visitor’s center. The three continued on the trail, up through relatively flat areas (some with wooden stairs) and then on into relative wilderness. At higher points on the trail, the beaten path became weakly trodden and narrow, ascending and then briefly descending, then picking up again until at last the path came to a near stop. A brief hike up a boulder field (slick with an icey trickle of water coming down from the well known Boone Spring) would have taken the group up to the mountain’s windblown ridge. However, apparently in search of whatever they had come to Black Mountain for in the first place, the group chose to skirt the strewn field. and walk along the lower flank of the mountain’s ridge.
It quickly becomes apparent, from watching the tape, that all members of the group were freezing. Unbeknownst to them, a squall line was moving south, driven down out of New England by the sudden influx of a mass of cold air from Canada. Their first hint of snow comes less than twenty minutes before the viewer realizes that they are in serious trouble. Although Carrie, the first to notice flurries dropping from the gray sky above, looks at the camera and jokingly suggests that the mountain will become a winter wonderland, the danger seems to have been more apparent to the camera man. One of the most infamous frames of the video, sometimes hailed as the voice of Cassandra speaking truth about wilderness survival, is the one in which Taylor, with his camera pointed at the dead pine needles below his feet, says, “I think we may want to turn back, if it’s starting to snow.”
Whether it was already too late is irrelevant. With their goal solidly in mind, the two other members of the expedition stood firm in their desire to move on, and Taylor made the decision to go with them. The three walked for a few minutes, a high cliff stretching up to the ridge on their southern side, and a steep hill leaning down toward the valley far below on the other. When flurries became more visible and began to accumulate, there was another brief discussion about turning back, this time beginning with Carrie. However, this discussion is much more difficult to discern clearly. At this point, the footage experiences severe audio distortion, something commonly associated with what reviewers of the film have called “the Hound” or, perhaps more accurately, “the Watcher”.
Regardless of the decision reached, the snow picks up by the end of the conversation, to the point where turning back is already impossible. The cliff face could lead the group back nearly to the trail, that much is true, but after it terminates, there are still a few hundred more feet of tangled alpine forest (a strange feature of high Appalachia), and the trail is not clear enough so high up. The group apparently decided, off camera, to wait out what they hoped to be a brief snow. The next video, taken probably two hours later, includes the group huddled up against a rock lower on the hill, which they had made the decision to use as a windbreak. Jonathon is visible in the film trying to start a fire, and eventually succeeding. Despite being dressed for normal winter weather, no one in the group appears to be dressed for the kind of weather coming with the squall line, and it clearly cuts like a knife.
Normal, edited versions of the McCoy Peak Footage do not attempt to duplicate the few snippets of conversation and “interviews” which Taylor took, trying to keep spirits up during the storm. Usually, only the most important points are included, particularly Carrie and Jonathon explaining their jobs at Western Carolina, and Taylor explaining his work as a wedding photographer after graduation with a master’s degree in anthropology and no prospects of obtaining a PhD following the birth of his daughter.
Taylor takes care to note that his daughter matters more to him than any degree or job he could ever have gotten.
It is some time shortly after nightfall when the McCoy Peak Footage takes a darker turn. Our first view of the Watcher comes at this point, although it is very unclear whether or not Taylor understood that he was filming it. As the day becomes rapidly darker and the storm shows no sign of letting up, the film maker tries the night vision feature of his camera. Through the lens, we are able to briefly see the creature, moving on all fours like a strange deer. Snow obscures our view, and the being is certainly difficult to make out in infrared. Nevertheless, it is clearly there, less than fifty feet out from the campsite. It looks briefly at the camera, perhaps able to see the flicker of fire, but fortunately unable to detect human movement through the snow.
Things like the Watcher have been reported from California in the west, the Mexican highland in the south, coastal North Carolina in the east, and Nunavuk in the north. While being relegated to North America, they appear to inhabit relatively underpopulated areas across the country. It is unclear what the range of a single Watcher might be, what its diet consists of, and what numbers exist in the wild, although there clearly cannot be many. No Watcher had ever been captured on camera alive in the wild before the McCoy Peak Footage, and reports were assumed to be legendary for many years. Most reports are undoubtedly fictitious, particularly given the wide levels of intelligence associated with Watchers in different stories, ranging from the animalistic fury associated with the Watcher in the possible hoax circulated on the internet as “Behind the Line of Trees”, all the way to the city-building associated with the Watchers described by New Age guru Frances Kobalt. No Watcher has ever been recovered, either dead or alive, and so it is difficult to assess any claims about the creatures other than the near unanimous description of their blindness to unmoving prey.
It is difficult, viewing the quick eye movements of the Watcher in this film, to believe that members of the species are entirely without intelligence. Although Taylor appears to have not noticed the creature before it could slink back off into the forest, he does demonstrate marked nervousness for the rest of the night. Strange sounds cause him to bring the camera back to bear. Audio enhancement, performed on the video by California’s Industrial Light and Magic, suggests that an unusual pattern of infrasound (most likely coming from the Watcher) may have been the cause for his anxiety.
It is during one of these frightened episodes, trying to fight off sleep, that Taylor views Jonathon walking just into the forest with a flaming stick from the fire. Whatever provoked his fear this time, it also seems to have disturbed the others. Taylor watches for a moment before Jonathon starts to come back. It is in that moment that the Watcher finally makes its move. We see a flurry of motion, too rapid for the video to detect. Carrie yells something, and Taylor jumps out from the shadow of the windbreak, stopping suddenly when he realizes that Jonathon is already gone from the view of the camera. His torch lies on the ground, bright enough that Taylor snaps off the night vision and lingers on its glow. Snow whirls and dances in the torch light, the wind of the blizzard threatening to silence it forever. Then from the distance come the screams.
The first is clearly Jonathon’s. It lasts for only a moment before choking out into the blackness. The second is clearly not human. It forces Taylor back toward the wind break, to watch silently as terrifying night goes on toward horrifying day.
Now, all conversation has stopped. The fire begins to die, and Taylor makes a brief foray back into the forest, looking carefully for firewood. Thanks to poor planning, however, the group has not gathered enough to last, and all that Taylor can find is covered with snow. He brings some back, attempting to brush it off, but the wood is too wet to burn. Within the hour, the fire dies, leaving Carrie and Taylor alone in the cold.
At some point, the footage cuts off, with only one more snippet of video recorded just before dawn. Natural light illuminates the scene as Taylor gently tries to wake Carrie. After failing, he touches his fingers to her neck, then moves them away, appearing to cross himself while holding the camera with the other hand.
With day rapidly growing brighter, it becomes obvious that the squall has subsided. Heavy snow now falls vertically, enormous flakes that make the forest look like the winter wonderland that Carrie had predicted. As soon as the light is strong enough for Taylor to see clearly in all directions, he starts out from the windbreak, back up toward the cliff where he had been the night before. Taylor seems unable to run, too weak and short of breath to maintain more than a stumbling walk. He strains to reach the cliff, then slowly moves along its side, an easy hike the day prior suddenly becoming much more difficult. It quickly becomes obvious to the viewer how unlikely it is that the camera man will reached the bottom of the mountain, even if he makes his way to the trail.
Then, all hope is lost.
Regardless of the authenticity of the dubious Texas record, it is clear that the primary method of hunting for a Watcher is recorded accurately in its name. The creature simply waits out its prey, in this case a human being. Another hint that the beings are intelligent, perhaps. Although Taylor moves back too quickly for the creature to have seen him, it is clearly standing in his way, staring upward on the path out. It also seems to have positioned itself strategically on the path, one which Taylor would certainly not have the strength to bypass. For the first time, the size of its eyes becomes clear. Both look like fishbowls, giving it a nearly one hundred eighty degree panoramic view. This time, the creature stands bolt upright rather than prowling like a dog. It looks disturbingly like a man, except for its vaguely reptilian flesh.
Taylor cuts off the footage here. We see a few more shots, taken from ground level, of the camera man breaking a branch from a tree and tying a long Bowie knife to it with his shoe lace. He seems determined to fasten the knife securely.
Then, he goes into his dialogue addressed to his family, and vanishes into history.
The Cuvert family has never been contacted by reputable journalistic sources, out of respect for their loss. Tabloids are turned down unanimously, and from all reports, they seem to have never viewed the film, except for occasional (and inevitable) snippets on the news. While they are obviously not in the dark regarding its content, they have chosen to shun the lime light that the video has obtained. If a scientific name is ever decided on for the Watchers, however, it is likely to include the Cuvert name, in honor of the man who taught humanity a lesson it was able to forget for hundreds of years,
There on some places on this Earth which it is better to shun than to explore.