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Hikes n' Climbs Black Mountains Tour
 

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Black Mountains Tour

Hike/Site Details

Length
13 Miles
Trail Type
Point to Point
Skill Level
Difficult
Duration
Multiple Days
Trailhead
Black mountain campground in Burnsville, NC
Trailhead Elevation
3000 ft approx
Top Elevation
6684ft

Location

State

Geographic Location

Latitude
35.75
Longitude
-82.23

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No foray into Appalachia should overlook the opportunity to scale the highest peak east of the Mississippi.  Here we have Mt. Mitchell, situated in the Black Mountain range in Western North Carolina.  Known for the Spruce trees which grow in the last couple of thousand feet nearing the summits of the multiple peaks in this range, the spruce give the mountains a rather blackish color as compared to surrounding mountains.  The color, from which the range is named, can be seen in satellite maps and even by driving by from a distance. 

 

These mountains have a strange look as you approach the summit, looking more like British Colombia than North Carolina, covered in higher altitude trees, mosses and rocks, and leaving the Rhododendron and Laurel to lower altitudes. 

This trip's participates include Shane, Natalie, AndRes and Jessica.  We have to pause here and give quite a pat on the back to Andres, this being his first hike and backpacking trip ever.... and not a slack trip at that! 

We began our journey at the Black mountain campground, having made friends with the local camp ranger, Tom, who kindly let us park the truck near his RV.  Old Tom, kindly shared a story about someone he knew a long time ago, bearing the same name of this author, whom was a bit of a good for nothing.  Annoyed by his antics, he painted the doors and windows of the miscreants cabin with honey and peanut butter.  Thereby imprisoning Mr. Shane in his cabin with so many brown bears licking at his doors.  We stared in disbelief and chuckled at the ingenuity all while wondering if we needed to stay on this fellows good side, and not wanting to become victims of such creativity, we set off quickly on our trip.  

Leaving another vehicle at the Colbert Creek parking area, this should, if things go well, result in a really great point to point trip!

The hike up Mitchell was uneventful, save for a rainstorm that required us to dig out ponchos.  At 5.6 miles uphill, this is certainly a long winded climb.  There are relatively no views at all on this hike, except for the power line cut through at the mid-hike offering a small glimpse of your progress.  This hike, is no slouch and early ambitions to summit Mitchell and a late start gave way to the need to setup camp.  The choices were Higgins Bald, which is likely less crowded on a holiday weekend than the more popular Commissary Hill.  

Upon hearing reports of limited people at Commissary, we set out for this locale.  Commissary is rather unremarkable.  A couple of acres of grass, cut out near the power line cut at 1.6b miles shy of the summit.  There is water here in a stream which was clean and collectable directly into the Nalgene just towards the Buncombe Horse trail.

Evening Social hour was provided by Jessica and Andres, whom, represent the epitome of experience in both directions.  Jessica who has hiked some 300 mile circuit in Nepal, and Andres, who was quite the trooper on his first hike offered jokes and stories to fill the evening.  Now Jessica, she is the Paula Deen of the Camping world, brings actual eggs, chicken, salmon and raw ingredients to cook with.  Natalie and I stared in amazement as she whipped up some fine cooking in an over sized pot with fresh ingredients.  While we scooped rehydrated mush from our Mountain House bags and relived the same camp meal yet again for the 14th time all while drooling at the odd sight of fresh meals being prepared before us.  Oh that Andres has got the good life doesn't he? :)

Morning, brought another fine fresh meal for us to stare at, by Mrs. Jessica-Deen and another bag of soupy Mountain House eggs.  We set off to the Mitchell Summit, climbing through the tundra-like high forests on the side of Mitchell, everything covered in moss and pine needles. 

Suddenly a strange sight appears.  After such wilderness and isolation, there be a man who needs to clearly spend a little more time walking mountain trails and his yipping poodle dog.  Then a slew of kids, then people who clearly just bought an outfit and a pair of new shoes for the 500 foot pavement walk to the top of Mitchell....from...the parking lot at the summit. And lots more where that came from.

Such an anticlimactic greeting to what should have been the "only touched by a few feet" summit accomplishment we all craved and deserved after the hike from the river.  A quick view from the concrete platform, a quick picture by the Summit Sign, pronouncing 6,684 feet so gloriously achieved by most with an air conditioned car and lots of horsepower...we quickly took advantage of the local plumbed facilities and headed off to the more secluded Mt. Craig.

Gradually leaving behind the mass public, and climbing Craig was only a 45 minute walk.  This ridge hike, was something I had personally dreamed of finishing after an attempt to cross this trail some 3 years previous in the dead of winter was personally my most anticipated yet.  The ridge consists of Mt Mitchell, Craig, Big Tom,Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, and Potato Hill and Finally Deep Gap was certainly to be the best yet. 

Arriving at Craig offered solidly the best views anywhere.  Certainly on this hike.  Lunch on the rocks and admiring the magnificence with only a select few was more the reward we were after.  Then there is a thunderstorm approaching...  time to make our getaway.

Digging out the ponchos...  Our veteran and apparently cheap... hiker. companion..Jessica confidently tears holes in kitchen sized trash bags for her and her now tendonitis suffering husband Andres.  Nat and I smiled in amusement noticing that the bags barely covered their shoulders much less their packs and bodies.  Too late now.  There's thunder in the distance.  We set off, Andres in great pain, all the while considering a plan B to preemptively rescue Andres from the summit of Mitchell, which eventually got abandoned with impressive determination from Andres to push on.

Mud, and more mud is the theme for the rest of this trip.  Crossing the remaining peaks, was treacherous and dirty.  Not the glorious ridge hike I'd always imagined.  Basically most of the ridge trail was basically a mud bog every few feet.  Thick and sucking your shoes off kind of mud.  With the thunderstorm on top, dumping solid rain, mud everywhere and drenching everything.  See the wind from a storm as it crosses a ridge line...is quite intense.  Not the greatest place to be with lighting around.  Natalie and I pushed forward through the misery.  She's quite the trooper, though horribly unhappy being wet and cold, she pushed through in spite of her misery.  Jessica and Andres?  How's those trash bags working for ya?  Wondering if they'll invest in real rain gear now?

We pushed on endlessly through 4.4 miles of mud, rock climbs and rope courses.....knotted ropes kindly offering assistance to those not smart enough to stay back at Mitchell with Mr. Peebles and his poodles.  Uno, the plott hound, in spite of the rain, stands proudly on top of Big Tom's plaque in accomplishment..on we march, through the much and rain crossing the remaining peaks.  Tired, muddy, and sick of falling in the slop, we find the remarkable Potato Hill, quite the steep pinnacle climb...which offers slick muddy 2 ft ledges to slip on, where the opposing edge certainly leads to a really bad day and possibly the permanent end of further hiking trips...kindly stands and welcomes us to try to pass.

Certainly Deep Gap has to be close.  What I can't believe is that 3 years earlier we were considering making this same trip to Mitchell from Deep Gap, with snow, ice and below zero temperatures.  Yuh huh.  Glad we skipped that plan.  It's strenuous enough on a good day.

Deep Gap offers windy camping, and we setup behind a rock face to get out of the wind.  Paula Deen of the camping world and Andres towing his stiff leg arrived to the great relief of the rest of the party.  Jessica whips out of her backside, I gather, yet another smorgasbord of campsite cooking.... that provokes even more camp-meal envy. 

Note that there is water here, but a very small amount, on the roadside trail near deep gap.  Just down on the left, but its so slow you will need a pump.  The next water source to my knowledge is down the Colbert ridge trail 1/8th of a mile.  After an uneventful second night, we woke to fog and clouds pushing quickly through the gap, and we set off towards the car at Colbert Ridge trail head. 

The only words for the top of this trail, is arduous and slow going.  It seemed to take forever.  Crawling over downed trees and slick rocks care must be taken here as it's quite easy to slip and fall.  The rest of the trip, brought back memories of the ascent of Colbert Ridge three years earlier, but was uneventful.  Finally, there be the car.  Kudos to all, whom with great attitudes in spite of what turned out to be one of the most strenuous and arguably miserable trips in our history..prevailed and conquered.  Natalie, for your unfailing selfless nature and support, Andres for your first backpacking trip through significant pain, showed remarkable grit, and Jessica....go buy some rain gear and ..next time bring enough grub for the rest of us!

-Shane

 

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Editor reviews

 
Black Mountains Tour 2013-09-03 14:49:38 Shane Lewis
Overall rating 
 
4.1
Trail Conditions 
 
3.0
Camp Sites 
 
4.0
Water Availability 
 
4.0
Scenery 
 
4.0
Big Nuts Tilt 
 
5.0
Reviewed by Shane Lewis    September 03, 2013
#1 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Black Mountains Tour

Absolutely worth doing.... just to say you did.

Review

Good Points
Some great hiking to enter into the log book. Climbing the highest mountain east of the Mississippi river is notable, camping is adequate except on the ridge trail.
Bad Points
Brutal and muddy. Ridge trail slippery and precarious in places. Tourist trap at the top of Mitchell is a bit jarring after a wilderness journey.
Do you recommend?
Yes
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0 #1 Guest 2013-09-05 00:29
I'm quite proud of my ingenious usage of trash bags, Shane. Mountain Hardware raincoat, $250+; trash bag $0.10; sitting under a rock completely drenched and staring at my miserably cold and wet husband and our soaked backpacks, priceless. For everything else, Jessica-Dean can fix it with her quinoa, sauteed mushrooms, chicken, and olive oil-balsamic herb vinaigrette. :P
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