Thursday, April 26, 2012

Black Mountain Campground to Mt. Mitchell

Mt. Mitchell Scenic Drive
Saturday's run with Charles was the perfect adventure run. Our only goals were to run "somewhere out towards Mt.Mitchell" and to "be out for about 6 hours or so."

We left the house late, around 1:00 p.m. (assuring some night running) and decided to try a new driving route to Mitchell.   From Chimney Rock, we took Hwy 9 towards Black Mountain and picked up US Hwy 80 for about 15 miles. This is a beautiful drive, and later I discovered it's part of the DOT's newly designated Mt. Mitchell Scenic Byway.  Cool.
The drive was an adventure in itself, being a new route. We were rewarded with surprisingly great scenery, including the discovery of Tomahawk Lake. On a beautiful day, I have to say it was just nice to be out driving. Like me, C likes to drive around aimlessly and enjoys making road "connections".   
Once at the BRP, we pulled off at the Green Knob Overlook at Milepost 50.4. Our plan was to hike up to the firetower, descend down to the South Toe River and the Black Mountain Campground, and then ascend more than 3600' in elevation over 5 1/2 miles to reach the Mitchell summit. This is one of the toughest climbs in the region.
The trail to the firetower is not obvious from the overlook, since there is no signage. You have to walk about 100 yards north (turn right from the overlook) and look for the signpost for the trail on the opposite side of the road. The narrow 1/2-mile trail gains 340 feet in elevation. It has a yellow blaze and can be overgrown in areas. Since it is somewhat hidden, the trail is not used by many hikers.

The panoramic views from atop the tower are certainly worth the 1/2 mile hike from the Parkway. The tower provides the best viewing point of the rugged and tall Black Mountains range, including Mt. Mitchell. The fire tower, atop the 5,080-foot Green Knob Mountain, was built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1931. 
The tower can be seen as you drive north on the BRP

Looking westat the peaks of the Black Mountains, the highest in eastern America with

Mt. Mitchell (6,684 ft) on left, Mt. Craig (6,647 ft) and Big Tom (6,580 ft).

The Black Mountains are underrated. They are more than a billion years old and contain 16 peaks over 6,000 feet tall. Six of the ten highest peaks in the eastern US are found here- including Mount Mitchell, with an elevation of 6,684 feet. Under...rated.

What a setting for an adventure run!
We descended down to the Black Mountain Campground easily enough, adding miles by taking the longer loop trail. We stopped and had a bite to eat at the bridge entering the campground.

As you go through the campground, it's a little difficult to tell where to pick up the trail to Mitchell. We saw a sign for a trail to a we had to take that excursion. Setrock Creek Falls is very cool and easy to access.

Setrock Creek Falls- Between Briar Bottom and Black Mountain Campground

Eventually, we made our way to the trail indicating the Mitchell summit was 5.5 miles.  This was a tough, relentless climb. It's deceiving. About midway up, I bonked. However, after some food and rest I came around pretty quickly.

We met up with the old Mitchell approach trail at the junction of Comissary Ridge and knew we only had about 900 feet to go. Midway up the trail we saw signage for the Balsam Nature Trail, and we didn't take the trail to the right...yet still ended up arriving at Mitchell via the Balsam Nature Trail. I've approached Mitchell from this same starting point, and fail to understand what turn I take that puts me on the Balsam Nature Trail...a mystery.

Finally, we summit Mt. Mitchell, and it's totally fogged in and it's gotten very cold. Then it starts raining!  We were definitely taking the road back to the car.

This was the most interesting part of the run. It was so foggy and rainy as we left the park it was a little bit scarey. We had to wonder if the winds were going to stay kicked up. because we were both freezing.  Then thunder and lightning got our attention...

It was like this the whole way back, although we did run most of the way which felt good.

We got back to the car almost 9 hours later, and endured fog so thick you couldn't see through it for almost all of the ride back.

This was a very tough 25 mile loop, but one I will come back and run again. It was a great reminder about how fickle the weather can be at Mt. Mitchell. 

Good times!

1 comment:

  1. Your pictures are beautiful! I love the waterfall pic. Your run sounds like it was perfect Barkley training!