Aug. 6-8, 2010
To celebrate Bob’s 60th birthday and the 40th anniversary of my first backpacking trip we took an uncharacteristic summer trip, in fact it is the only time we have hiked together not between the months of October and March. This stroll around the Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell was billed as 30 miles over 5500 feet elevation. After this brutally hot summer we both needed some cooler temperatures and the highest ridge east of the Mississippi was in order.
We left the farm late (6:30) so I could have enough light to see to feed the turkeys before leaving them to Betsy for 3 days. We parked at Steppes Gap and hit the trail at 10:30 temps in the 60’s. Lee and I had done part of this loop a few years ago but got rained out on part of it. I had discovered what looked like an old trail/logging grade on the west side of the ridge that ran along the State park boundary for the first 8 miles. It also looked like it continued on around the mountain to at least Deep Gap and maybe on over to the old Mica mine below Celo Knob.
It wasn’t as clear as one would hope but we were not walking it the clouds either. The wild flowers were in full splendor with lots of butterflies working the blooms.
The berry bushes were heavy with ripe fruit too. Over the course of the weekend we would eat blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries and apples! It was a good thing too as we found out at lunch that Bob was testing out a new ultralight technique to reduce his pack weight.
As we stopped for lunch he reached into his pack and discovered he had left his food bag in the car. Certainly one way to have a light pack. We decided to continue on and tomorrow he would go out to the road and catch a ride back down to the car to get his food. We would just eat mine until then.
Shortly after lunch the real fun began. The old road/trail along the park boundary was easy to follow and walk. When we reached the end of the park land the trail does continue on for about a half a mile and then just dead ends. Lee and I did the same thing and just crashed on across the slope figuring we would find the trail. That time we tended to head down slope and spent well over an hour fighting our way through rhododendrons on an extremely steep slope until we went up hill and found a trail.
Bob and I looked carefully as we went down the trail from the park boundary trying to see if a trail headed off up the hill. Reaching the end we too crashed on across but stayed more on contour and then slightly uphill. After 45 minutes we find the trail again, still a mystery as to where it goes. Bob is happy thrashing through the rhodos.
Reinvigorated by getting out of the rhodos we sailed down the trail and made it to Deep Gap by 4:00. The second section of the trip was to see if the old rail grade continued on around Winter Star Mountain and on to below Celo Knob. This was such an easy amble that Bob decided to wear his skirt, uh wrap.
We got water for the dry camp and ridge walk tomorrow and found the old over grown road/trail that does climb up to the Crest Trail from the old mine road. We got to the top completely shredded by the blackberry canes. It comes out very near the base of Celo Knob and we climbed up a ways and had a great view of the entire ridge south to Mt. Mitchell and past.
We head on back towards Horse Rock and the Wilson Ridge trail that Bob, Stewart and Chuck and I had plunged down ten years ago, looking for a campsite. Nothing really great or protected but we did settle down on the meadow at 6150’ for the balmy night. 16 miles today and the high temperature was only 70!
Overnight the sky cleared completely and the milky way was a bright as I have ever seen it in the East. Saturday dawned clear and 51 degrees! We hit the trail by 7:30 after Bob eats the rest of my food. This stretch of the Crest trail for the 8 miles back to Mt. Mitchell is one of the roughest sections either one of us has ever walked.
Endless ups and downs over the 6000’ peaks with almost no grades or switch backs.
The clouds are rising up the east side of the ridge and the view deteriorated over the day.
We take a rest at Deep Gap and then hump it over Potato Hill, Cattail Peak and Balsam Cone to Big Tom Gap by 12:00. I leave Bob there after negotiating a ride for him with some hikers who happened to be walking by towards the parking lot. Of course I take the wet tarp with me and all of Bob’s water bottles to fill and lug into camp so he can scamper out to the car for his food.
I drop down the flume that is the Big Tom Gap trail to the Buncombe Horse trail and stop to fill up all the water bottles at Thee Creek and then sidle to rest of the way out to camp by 1:00. I lounge around until Bob arrives at 3:45. He made good time doing the 3 miles round trip to the parking lot and back and then on out to camp. A leisurely evening with copious amounts of brown liquor was had. To sleep with another heavy dew and the clouds in and out all night. A little over 7 miles today for me, 10 for Bob.
Sunday morning arrived with sun and 57 degrees.
On the trail by 8:00 and around the Horse trail to Commissary ridge by 9:30. We see campers at two places on the way. On up the 1100’ and 1.6 miles to the top of the mountain and the new observation tower. We are on the road home by 10:30. Almost 6 miles this morning.