Black Mountain Crest Trail – Final SB6K Hike – 7-22-12 – 12 Miles
Yes, just two days after I retrieved my car from the Honda dealership (they replaced the ignition cylinder) I was ready to go hiking again. And this time it’s a big one: my final SB6K hike.
The list has been whittled down to just three peaks on the Black Mountain Crest Trail going north from Mount Mitchell – Mount Craig, Balsam Cone and Potato Hill. This is an out-and-back hike, so we’ll go over every mountain twice. I’ve already summited Mt. Mitchell several times and I’ve also tagged the three outer SB6K peaks on a strenuous day about a year ago. I’ve left this particular hike until last because the views are dramatic and because I wanted Jim to accompany me.
Typical of summer weather patterns in the NC mountains, it was sunny at our house and grew increasingly cloudy and drizzly as we approached the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our view of the Black Mountain Crest Trail from the Parkway was not cheerful. Would we be in the fog all day?
Nothing to do but to do it. The trail begins from the picnic area below the main parking area, with impressive trail work and stone steps.
I was thrilled to see these pink turtle- heads. I didn’t realize they were blooming profusely every- where.
The first mountain to the north is Mount Craig, where the trail passes through a fragile area and is clearly designated to keep hikers on track.
Clouds were fascinating, boiling up and shifting around all day
Summit photo at Mount Craig – notice the whiteout behind me
A plaque in case you didn’t know – I wish every summit had these
In between the three SB6K peaks there are other mountains. The next peak that Jim and I passed over was Mount Tom, also with an informative plaque. “Found the body of” refers to Elisha Mitchell, the man for whom Mount Mitchell is named and who fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls. Elisha is buried at the summit of Mount Mitchell.
Next the trail goes over the top of Balsam Cone’s narrow ridge, but the summit is not marked, so I stepped up onto every rock I could find to assure that I hit the summit. Funny, Jim could stand right next to it and not worry about tagging it. Maybe if there was a bike on top of it…
Michaux saxifrage was also abundant along the trail, hard to photograph, but I kept trying. I really love the delicate laciness of this flower and its foliage.
Indian pipe, always love to see this.
The Black Crest Trail does not mess around, going straight up and down the peaks with no thought of switchbacks or avoiding obstacles. Occasional ropes are helpful, especially on a very wet day.
Another mountain between the SB6K’s, Cattail Peak coming up next.
Don’t look behind you, it’s a little ominous
Cattail Peak has a big sign saying it’s the summit when it’s really not. Using my skills gained in my off-trail seminar with Jeff and his trusty directions that it’s “over there about a quarter-mile,” Jim and I bushwhacked and actually found the benchmark! I felt as triumphant at this accomplishment as I did finishing the whole hike today.
Acting like I know what I’m talking about, pointing out the high peak of Balsam Cone. This photo was taken from near the summit of Potato Hill. At this point I had officially completed all of the SB6K peaks! But I still had to go back over all five peaks from today to get to the car.
Since we were here and I might want to someday say I had hiked all the connecting trails in the Black Mountains, Jim and I scurried downhill to Deep Gap, where my Black Mountains hike last summer had passed through.
We were rewarded for our effort with these spectacular Turk’s cap lilies
Turk’s caps with butterfly
Deep Gap is a great lunch stop. As Jim pulled out his sandwich, we heard the unmistakable rumble of thunder. Yikes! Chew faster! We were aware that it would take several hours to go back over all the bumps and the ridge line is not the place to be during a thunderstorm, so we kept a close eye on the sky and were prepared to hunker down and get really wet.
Something with serious claws was here
Moving so fast I am just a blur
We got caught in about 15 minutes of light rain, nothing dangerous, and were able to enjoy the rest of the hike back. A pause for reflection back at Mount Craig.
Pink turtleheads galore!
So I’ve touched the summits of 40 peaks above 6,000 feet in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Some of them I will see again, some I am sure will only be revisited in my memories and photographs. It’s a worthy challenge that took me to many places I would not otherwise have ventured, and I feel enriched and humbled by the experience.
“There are days when I question my sanity, but I’ve never had a moment in the mountains when I wished I was at home watching football.” ~Rick Shortt