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Mt. Mitchell

Hike/Site Details

Length
12 miles
Trail Type
Loop
Skill Level
Difficult
Duration
Multiple Days
Trailhead
Black Mountain Campground, at the base of the Black Mountain range, North Carolina
Trailhead Elevation
3000
Top Elevation
6784

Contact Info

Website
http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/momi/main.php

Location

Address
2388 State Highway 128,
State
Zip Code
28714

Geographic Location

Latitude
35.76
Longitude
-82.27

No Eastern US hiking itinerary would be complete without a visit to Mt. Mitchell, NC. Mt. Mitchell is the highest of a chain of mountains called the Black Mountains, located just northwest of Asheville, NC. At 6684 ft. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the US, east of the Mississippi river. When Andre Michaux and Elisha Mitchell explored the Black Mountains in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they documented forests with an extraordinary variety of plant species. Red spruce covered the upper slopes, and Fraser fir dominated the peaks above 6,000 feet. Hardwood forests, including majestic stands of American chestnut, oaks, and hickories, populated the slopes below 5,000 feet, and rhododendron thickets cloaked forest streams. There literally is nowhere...

No Eastern US hiking itinerary would be complete without a visit to Mt. Mitchell, NC. Mt. Mitchell is the highest of a chain of mountains called the Black Mountains, located just northwest of Asheville, NC. At 6684 ft. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the US, east of the Mississippi river. When Andre Michaux and Elisha Mitchell explored the Black Mountains in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they documented forests with an extraordinary variety of plant species. Red spruce covered the upper slopes, and Fraser fir dominated the peaks above 6,000 feet. Hardwood forests, including majestic stands of American chestnut, oaks, and hickories, populated the slopes below 5,000 feet, and rhododendron thickets cloaked forest streams. There literally is nowhere around besides Mt. Mitchell where you can start out in a typical southeastern forest, and end up in the Canadian Rockies. It’s really different when you get up into that unique hardwood forest.

Now, to chronicle my latest adventure: I hadn’t been to Mt. Mitchell since probably 2001. Since then they have torn down the old fire lookout tower that’s been there forever, and built a really nice observation point on the top of the mountain that is accessible by vehicle. If you don’t use a vehicle however, you need to be prepared for some blood, sweat and tears. I started my adventure at the Black Mountain Campground, which is located at exactly 3000 ft. This meant that I have 3684 ft. vertical to climb, over a day and a half, in order to succeed in my plan. None of my invitees were able to attend, so I embarked on a solo trip this time (with my yellow lab, Samson), during late November, 2011. The weather forecast looked fine, but I had to prepare for real winter weather; anytime you go up that high there’s a potential to be really miserable if you’re not prepared. Add to that the warning on the website that there was unusually high bear activity in the area, and the recipe was perfect for an interesting adventure. So there we were: me, my dog, and my brand new can of Counter Assault Bear pepper spray, heading up the mountain. We got a pretty late start, and weren’t able to hit the trail head until about 2:30pm, so that gave us about 3 hours of daylight. The pack was somewhat heavy, with all the winter gear, although I was only taking a Gore Tex REI bivy sack for my tent so it wasn’t too bad. At any rate, I had 3 miles to hike in to reach the campsite where I was staging my ascent; 3 miles, but about 1700 ft. vertical. I made it with no problem, literally just as it was getting dark. So, I put on the headlamp, lit the hiking candle, and made dinner. I basically slept out in the open, so it was nice to have a big dog to theoretically keep a bear from stepping on me when he was scrounging around for food. As it stands, we had no visitors, and it was a good night. A warm front actually blew in that night, so it was very windy, and by morning it was actually in the low 60’s which was very warm for that time of year. So, I broke camp and hiked to where I planned to dump all of my gear and make the 3.3 mile trek up the Higgins Bald Ground trail, to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. The weather was absolutely fabulous, and this was turning out to be one of those perfect trips, with no snafu’s or problems. I hadn’t forgotten anything, I slept warm, ate good, there was water where I thought there would be, great campsites, no critters, and fantastic weather. You really couldn’t ask for better conditions. It was a bit lonely not having anyone to talk to, but my dog was actually quite accommodating and offered an understanding ear and listened attentively as I told him all of my problems. Dogs are awesome for that. Shane wasn’t along on this trip, so there was no real drama or near death experiences which was nice for a change!

The biggest draw to Mt. Mitchell is its ruggedness, and the beauty of the hardwood forest. There are also great backcountry campsites, and spectacular views. As I made my way to Commissary Hill, which is at the base of the final ascent to the summit, I actually was able to take my shirt off and relax on a grassy knoll while working on my suntan. As long as the sun didn’t duck behind a cloud, it was ridiculously warm for this time of year on Mt. Mitchell. I’ve literally frozen my butt off up there in August before. So we made the final ascent and got some great pictures of the summit. It was pretty grueling, but worth it. I rested a tad too much up top, and so on the way back down I started getting some leg cramps. The walk down was like a torture session on my knees, and cramps didn’t help. I had 2 sets of gear that I had deposited, and the reality was that if I didn’t make it to either set of gear, it was going to be a question of surviving the night. All I had with me was a T shirt, a little bit of water, and a few bars. This is where doing stuff in the winter can be a bit dangerous, because realistically if I twisted an ankle or, my cramps got really bad and I couldn’t go on, there was nobody to fall back on. My plan was actually to camp not far down the trail from where I left my gear, and as I hobbled down the mountain, I was anticipating sleeping really well. However, after I made it down and got all my gear, my legs were feeling ok, and so by the time I reached the area where the map said there were some campsites, I decided to go ahead and hike on out. This made for about a 10 mile day, and when we reached the car, we were WHIPPED. So, that concludes a great trip, and I highly recommend this area, especially if you are into winter weather activities. I plan on going back later on this winter and doing some snowshoeing.

-Craig Patton

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Mt. Mitchell
Mt. Mitchell
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Editor reviews

 
Mt. Mitchell 2011-12-02 02:58:20 Craig Patton
Overall rating 
 
4.2
Trail Conditions 
 
5.0
Camp Sites 
 
4.0
Water Availability 
 
4.0
Scenery 
 
5.0
Big Nuts Tilt 
 
3.0
Reviewed by Craig Patton    December 02, 2011
Last updated: February 18, 2012
Top 10 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Mt. Mitchell

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