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Hikes n' Climbs Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
 

Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap Hot

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Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap

Hike/Site Details

Length
8
Trail Type
Out-and-Back
Skill Level
Moderate
Duration
Full Day
Trailhead
Near Cello, in the Black Mountain Range. Colbert Ridge trail off of Hwy 80.
Trailhead Elevation
2743
Top Elevation
6200

Location

Address
cello, nc
City
State

Geographic Location

Latitude
35.82
Longitude
-82.25

Videos

Video
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"In memory of my faithful, albeit ornery hound Blackjack. I'll miss you, and Craig will miss you... not so much.."

 

A Winter hike up to one of the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S., rising above 6200 feet, is ranked #22 on the South Beyond 6000 list.  Craig and I, and the dogs decided on a weekend trip up to climb Mt. Mitchell from the North side as the Park Service had closed all the roads to Mt. Mitchell.  We set out on a Friday, arriving well after dark, somewhere near 11PM, deciding to start a hike at that hour and in rather frigid temperatures, we debated on camping right there just inside the woods, where, mind you, you will find a number of attractive campsites, though we didn't scout for water...

 

After about an hour of hiking, we get to the snowline and proceeded to setup camp at a quite nice campsite in a clearing in a deciduous stand of trees.  After hanging our bear bag and setting up tent, Craig deciding to sleep in his Bivy, asked if his dog Sampson could sleep with me and Blackjack in the tent.  I told Craig, "If Blackjack will let him.."  Interesting, my dog, having been such a pansy for his 1 and three-quarter years, had recently found just found his stones, and adamantly refused to let any other dog in the tent.


It was really quite cold, probably 20 or so, though not really unbearable.  I passed out quickly, enjoying the fact that spiders, bears, bad people and just about any other sane creature wouldn't be found out there to bother you.  What does that say about us??

Ironically, at 3AM, Craig's Lab, Samson got aroused and let out a warning bark.  Craig, quick to get up to investigate, witnesses 3 or 4 individuals walking through the woods at 3AM in the snow... Really?

Craig, said "Hello, what are y'all up to?"  In a thick mountain hillbilly accent, one of them said "Gawin 'ta work"...  "What in the?"  They weren't forestry, no chainsaws, or anything but daypacks..  Content that they weren't a bother Craig went back to sleep.  I, so observantly, slept through the whole event, and Blackjack, never the guard dog sort, didn't give a flip either.

In the AM, we casually geared up, planning for a long day climbing to the top of Winter Star then over Potato Hill, Mt Craig and Mt. Mitchell, so off we went.

The trail is well maintained, and while we took the Colbert Ridge trail, there are a number of other entrances, with at least one appearing closer to the road than our selected course.   While the trail is only about 4 miles, it does seem oddly grueling but plenty enjoyable with intermittent views and occasionally interesting geography.

At one point, about halfway up the trail, the air was filled with a stench, incredibly vile,  unlike anything we had smelled before.  Craig said it smelled like Catfish Blood Bait or Liver bait, and it was streaming down the hillside, some 50 yards...  Blackjack, smelled it and headed off into the brush in that general direction as we pushed forward on the trail...  I then noticed a figure crouched down in the weeds and he was picking up dark clumps of something off of the ground.  I approached and asked "How's it going?"  He didn't respond...   "How are you?", I asked again... No response...  getting closer, I notice a Hispanic collecting plants and stacking them neatly.  I asked him how he was doing in Spanish and he responded, "Good.."  I asked what he was collecting those plants for?  He replied, "We put them in flower arrangements..".



I then asked him "What is that horrible smell?.. "  He sort of stared and didn't speak and I was keenly then aware that I just might be getting a bit nosy for my own good, considering we have strange people climbing mountains in the middle of the night 3 miles from the nearest anything, and picking strange weeds with odd odors in there air...  so, "Well, good luck, have a great day.."  I said and off Craig and I and the dogs went without a look back...  Better off that way I think...  I managed to get Blackjack to return from his odor seeking adventures without any further complication.  Later,  I would discover that this plant is indeed used in flower arrangements, and is called "Galax Urceolata".  They pay up to 2 cents per leaf and it is literally equivalent to picking up pennies up off the ground in the forest.  It is poaching and illegal however, under certain conditions, thus the suspicious activity.  But, a person could make upwards of $30,000 per year just picking leaves, and let me tell you, that will pay for quite a double-wide trailer,  some wife-beaters and a six pack there in Western NC.. So good for them!  Still never figured out what that smell was though.

Craig and I pondered for the remaining climb what all that was about.

Interestingly enough, once you get about 4000 feet you will see the Deciduous forest give way to the Conifer Canadian Boreal forest and mountainscapes.  As I understand things, these mountains are so high, they retain the same appearances and even species of that in the Rockies and is in stark contrast to any other place in this part of the world, populated by Spruce forests and hard rocky outcroppings and strange mosses.  The trails are fairly well maintained here and water at least at this time of the year was plentiful, having to cross wide mountain streams with small waterfalls.


Upon arriving to Deep Gap, which lies between Potato Hill and Winter Star Mountain, we felt the wind and the snow blowing in and quickly evaluated the first campsite, which isn't pleasant but will do in a pinch..


Moving South towards Potato Hill, you will find two other spectacular sites, which offer incredible views and relative access to water, if you take the 4 wheeler trail that runs parallel to the east side of the ridge.  There is a pipe and numerous springs that run in this area.

We picked the second camp site closest to Potato Hill, as the first was taken by a small group, apparently just as moronic as we were at that temperature.

As night approached, the clouds whipped by, snow started to fall, temperatures were dropping into single digits by late afternoon, we elected to hold off on our trek to Mitchell as it seemed to be in the interest of our gear, resources, and perhaps common sense...

We quickly setup camp, Blackjack eagerly seeking shelter in the tent...   After heating coffee and a quick meal, Craig and I laughed at the coffee water freezing within 2 minutes, and then realizing that we were possibly in for a brutal night of snow and below 0 temperatures.

We hunkered down in the tents at 4:45PM, ate as well as we dared, and sleeping with our water canteens to keep them from freezing solid, put on 3 layers and buried into the sleeping bags.  This day, Blackjack growled and snapped at me as I tried to remove him from the interior of my sleeping bag.  It was a bit intimidating, and I had to force him to the ground by his neck amongst gnashing of teeth to get him to yield.  Didn't quite understand at the moment, as he had never acted this way before, but it was really dang cold....  He was fighting in survival mode, as it was so cold, and was willing to fight me for warmth...  Very interesting...  We covered him in fleece that Craig's mom made, and setup a makeshift tent and windbreak for Samson outside piggybacked to the tent, and settled in to endure what would be the next 15 hours...


The night passed uneventfully, and even seemed to warm up just a bit, relatively speaking.  Unbelievable how cold it feels when you're laying there exposed and doing nothing for hours...  Low on food, the next day, we made an uneventful hike back out to the car, only to find the entire parking area adorned with, said, Galax Urceolata...  All in all, it was a great trip, challenging in some ways.  While we didn't make the summit of Mitchell, it was indeed an interesting weekend, and would recommend to any mountain enthusiast.

Alas, it would, however, be the last hike with Blackjack, as he would be struck by a car on Dec 23rd, only for him to die in the back of the jeep.

He was a faithful, and stubborn friend, incredibly agile, could walk fallen trees like they were a side walk, climb rock at 60 degrees of angle, and jump over about anything.  He never complained and was always ready for the next trip.  He always would scout ahead and run back to check on us, carrying in his own food on long hikes..  He was an incredible mountain dog, that probably clocked in 200 or 300 miles all told along my side.  You'll be missed Blackjack.

Image Gallery

Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap

Map

Swap Start/End

Editor reviews

 
Winter Star Mountain and Deep Gap 2012-01-28 00:53:15 Shane Lewis
Overall rating 
 
3.9
Trail Conditions 
 
3.0
Camp Sites 
 
4.0
Water Availability 
 
5.0
Scenery 
 
5.0
Big Nuts Tilt 
 
3.0
Reviewed by Shane Lewis    January 28, 2012
Last updated: February 18, 2012
#1 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Winterstar Mountain and Deep Gap

Awesome!

Review

Good Points
Spectacular Canadian Rockies type Coniferous forests are to be found near the summits of these peaks, thus giving way the name the Black Mountains. An experience, not to be missed in Southeastern Hiking.
Bad Points
None that I can think of..
Do you recommend?
Yes
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