MST (Craggy Gardens loop), 11/08

Nov. 28,29  2008

~24 miles

Since Lee left town Bob and I can’t seem to get anyone to go on the Thanksgiving Death March trips, can’t figure it out?  Death March six started Friday after Thanksgiving because I had family in town and had to cook one of our million dollar turkeys.  Bob showed up pre 5:30 am hung over from too many Cosmopolitans the day before at John’s.  We arrived on the side of the Black Mtn. range at 9:00 to a raw wind, 40 degrees and 3 inches of snow.  We quickly got ready and steamed up hill on the Mountains to Sea trail heading south towards Craggy Gardens.

Bob had suggested this area because the Parkway is closed through this area due to a landslide and there is no hunting on the Parkway.  Of course he left it up to me on how to make a loop or any other kind of trip out of this.  We knew going in the weather was going to deteriorate over the next few days but we began with high clouds and long views.  This is looking south to Craggy Dome near our “planned” destination for the day.


The MST climbs up along the spine of Blackstock Knob and other 6000 footers and the snow was from 2 to 5 inches deep.

Some how we lost the trail near some sections of state park land and after a mile or so following the cleared park boundary we decided the trail lay some where down the side of the mountain from us.  The first bushwack of the day ensued, down through the firs and the snow.  We ended up on a dirt road that we followed back towards the parkway and the MST.

After lunch we walked down the parkway a short ways to look for the old Walker ridge trail that used to drop down from the parkway into the Big Ivey creek area and the Laurel Gap trail.  We successfully found the over grown path and headed down hill until we got to a small gap and decided to just bush wack, for the second time in one day, down to the trail.  Minutes later we popped out onto the grassy old forest road that is the Laurel Gap trail.  This trail parallels the parkway but about 1000 feet below it.  Heading south we walked for several hours towards Douglas falls only encountering two mountain bikers.

We finally reached the 70 foot high Douglas Falls where Bob showed his break dancing form to some locals

Then the fun began.  It was 4:30 with about an hour of daylight left.  We headed up the Douglas falls trail back towards the MST.  We knew if we didn’t find a flat spot quickly we would end up on a steep slope with about 10 switch backs before we got to the MST itself.  We crossed the third and last creek crossing without any camping spots so we filled up with water and headed up the hill, in the snow, with the headlamps on.

Two hours later we have made it to the MST and walked along it for another mile and a half until we eventually cross the Blue Ridge Parkway.  By 7:15, and at least 12 miles, we are desperate for a flat place out of the snow to camp.  We head up into the beech trees near a pullout and begin to set up the illegal camp when a park service truck pulls in and stops.  We shut off the headlamps as we see them coming down the road and wait for them to leave.  Finally they do but Bob realizes that there will be no fire tonight.  I make dinner and Bob barely gets it down before he is snoring.  This is the definition of a death march!

We wake up to lowering clouds and just a bit of sleet overnight.  Only 37 degrees though and we hit the trail by 8:00.  Heading back north on the MST it parallels the parkway up on the ridges.  In the snow, we cross several high spots including a couple of great balds with grand views.  We can see it is sunny in the Smokies but not here.

We get back to Balsam Gap where we had to decide whether to go out to Big Butt and camp early or to head around the mountain towards the State park.  The weather is beginning to close in so we head towards the State park on an old logging road that countours around the north side of Blackstock Knob, Mt. Gibbes and Guyot peak.  Bob is surprised that there are almost no deer tracks in the snow but the number of bear tracks is staggering as well as coyote, bobcat and turkey.

As we head around the mountain we hear all of this comotion and it is a large group of turkeys fighting and chasing each other around.  Eventually they headed up the side of the mountain in front of us.

After hours of slogging along the old snowy and icy road and the clouds lowering with a mist begining we arrived at Steppes Gap and the Mt. Mitchell State Park offices.  We looked at each other knowing we had walked in two days what we had planned for three and that the weather was headed down hill.  We headed down hill too, back to the truck and made for home early.  Only the second time we have ever finished early, the other time was also when we had run out of trail at Fires Creek.  Good thing too as another night out in the rain, in sloppy snow and 30 degrees would have been just too much fun and Bob doesn’t believe in that!

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