Mt Mitchell Trail – 5/5/12 – 6.5 Miles
My neighbor Mark mentioned back last winter that he and his son Jason were joining a group to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in June 2012. He knows I’m a hiker (he isn’t) and asked for a little advice. What could I say? “Go hiking – oh, and carry a heavy pack.” Now, Mark has a full-time job and a wife and a dog and other interests and I know he’s not going to drive to western North Carolina every weekend to climb a mountain. He’s a very fit and strong guy (cyclist) and I’m a little skeptical that he will train for an experience that is going to cost a lot of money and that he may not complete. But I learned that Mark is also very disciplined and serious about commitments, and he did train nearly every weekend at our closest little bump, Crowder's Mountain.
So what could I do to help? I took him to climb Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain in the eastern United States at 6,684 feet. Yeah, it’s not Kilimanjaro at 19,340 feet, but it’s as good as we got ‘round here.
The Mount Mitchell Trail from Black Mountain Campground to the summit of Mt Mitchell is 6.5 miles. I wanted to hike up and then down, but due to the long drive to and fro and other time constraints we had to make it a one-way hike. My husband Jim stepped in to help out, agreeing to drop us off at the trailhead, then drive to the parking lot at the top and go for a bike ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway while we hiked. (It is not hard to get Jim to go for a bike ride on the Parkway.)
Rain in the forecast turned into rain in real life. As we turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway it was coming down rather seriously and Jim was thinking he’d be reading a book in the car while he waited for Mark and me to hike up. At the trailhead we suited up for a wet day.
But…the woods were dripping but not pouring, and within 20 minutes the rain gear came off and we hiked the rest of the day with intermittent clouds but no rain. Ain’t life grand?
Mark’s pack cover – it worked – it didn’t get wet!
The Mount Mitchell Trail runs concurrently with the Mountains-To-Sea Trail as it climbs about 3,500 feet to the summit, some parts steeper than others but every step moving upward. Some fun stuff:
A neon orange salamander
Mark’s lunch bag
A great year for rhododendrons
Hhmmm… which way?
At about 1.5 miles the trail splits, but either direction is okay – it comes back together after just a quarter mile. We took the left track, also known as the Higgins Bald Trail, only to find that Higgins Bald… is not. The forest is taking it back.
A pretty stream crossing - as it goes over the edge to make a waterfall we can only hear.
A big bad blow-down
Early in the hike we met a couple that hikes around Mount Mitchell regularly and the man was carrying a small chainsaw. The week before they noted some storm damage and came back to take care of it, but someone had beat them to it. Nice to have such dedicated local trail maintainers.
The trail switchbacks across an open area where power lines ascend the mountain. While power lines are not pretty, it’s easy to look “through” them for the beautiful views.
In the last couple of miles the character of the trail changed from hardwoods to Fraser fir and hemlock, dense overhead, less sunlight, a Hansel-and-Gretel feeling. We passed through an area that had experienced some of nature’s pruning during a fierce storm.
A small stream bubbling up over some interesting rock formations – looks like a quarry where the rock has been chipped out.
And we’re at the summit – Mount Mitchell!
Looking north to the SB6K and other peaks I have yet to conquer: Mount Craig, Big Tom, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Potato Hill
Looking east to Hawksbill and Table Rock at Linville Gorge (the "cat's ears" formation on the farthest ridge line)
Mark had no problems on this hike other than having to slow down for me. Jim did get in a good bike ride, still a little wet and chilly, but a good day nonetheless, made better by introducing Mark to the Jack Frost Dairy Bar in Marion. If you have never had ice cream at Jack Frost, get in the car right now and go there.
PS – Mark and his son Jason successfully summited Mt Kilimanjaro on June 24.
The difference between try and triumph is a little umph. ~Author Unknown