Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Lofty Summit and a Toe Dip

MST Hike – Day 27 – 6-23-10 – Hwy 128 to Black Mountain Campground – 11.4 Miles

Danny and I met and set up camp at Black Mountain Campground the night before our Mount Mitchell summit day. Despite the heat wave in the eastern half of North Carolina and all along the East Coast, the campground was chillin’ and I needed my lightweight fleece as we sat around after supper. One of life’s greatest pleasures is sleeping outside in 50’s temps.

After a short commute and an early start time, our day began with an incredible level walk following an old road bed to the site of Camp Alice (see Danny’s blog for history lesson). St. John's wort was abundant, as were purple fringed orchids, though none as large as those we saw at Lunch Rocks the last time out. Still, orchids along the trail are not something you see every day (or for me, even every year).

Signage within Mt Mitchell State Park is terrific, including trail maps and explanations. If you’d like to try a hike here, the website has a downloadable map. I always recommend planning your hike route before you go.

After Camp Alice, the steep climb up to the Mt Mitchell summit begins with no apologies – no messing around here. The trail has square blue blazes to correspond to the park map as well as white MST circles.

At the upper trailhead, we prioritized and turned left to the snack bar, where Danny had hot tea (how can she drink hot tea on such a hot day?) and I rewarded myself with a Snickers bar. I probably could have eaten ten of them! Only then did we proceed further up the trail to the lookout tower for Mt Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet – a milestone for many reasons. And not surprisingly, cloud cover hid the views.

All downhill from here, more than six miles, and you will never convince me to hike this route in reverse when I know that I can just drive to the top. A short story: Years ago our family planned a camping trip for my son’s birthday (he was an avid Boy Scout at the time). The scheme was to camp at Black Mountain Campground on Friday night, cook a fancy dinner, and hike up to the Mt Mitchell summit on Saturday. Well…it was a dark and very stormy night, we had difficulty finding the campground, someone forgot the tent stakes (had to tie the corners out with big rocks), but we still cooked the elaborate Dutch oven dinner (complete with Black Forest cake at midnight – do I get my crown in Mom heaven or what??). The tent's rain fly was inadequate and it rained all night and we got soggy. The next morning we woke to blue skies, packed up and drove to the summit of Mt Mitchell and had a lovely lunch.

On the downward trek we passed a large camping area with several trail intersections but kept holding out for Higgins Bald to have a lunch break. It took a bit longer than expected to reach this point. Remember, downhill does not mean faster – on the contrary, it often means slowing down to step more carefully and to lessen the impact on the knees. We finally stopped at a random shady area to eat, and then about 100 feet down the trail we found the spot we had originally anticipated. Note to self: eat when you’re hungry and you can still stop at cool spots just for a rest.

A backpacker on the trail

A classic photo with Danny on the trail

Shiny chips of mica littered the
 ground on the way down

Our trail ended as we walked into the campground, where we donned water shoes and headed for the South Toe River….. aaahhh…..
But the fun wasn’t totally over. We had both brought something simple to heat up for supper, but the restaurant at Mt Mitchell was open until 8:00 p.m. so…part of our mission is to experience the local color, right? Pass the cornbread, please!  

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. ~Winnie the Pooh


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