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Mount Mitchell on a changeable day May 3, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Black Mountains, hiking.
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A nice row of 6000 footers

I took this photo from the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home.  I couldn’t have taken it on the way there in the morning, because the whole world around me at that point was engulfed in blank, white fog.  And in fact, even this afternoon photo doesn’t show Mt. Mitchell, because at that moment a cloud was draped over its top, giving the composition a flawed, incomplete appearance.  So I opted to shift the viewfinder to the right and snap the portraits of Mt. Craig (6,647′), Big Tom (6,580′), Balsam Cone (6,596′), Cattail Peak (6,620′), and Potato Hill (6,260′).  Quite impressive, the Black Mountain Range.

The whole day was like that, fog restlessly coming and going, winds either warm or cold rushing around the mountainsides, clouds pausing to dump a batch of drizzle and then moving on.

This was a hike I’d been planning to do for a while, and I thought it would make a good exercise hike the weekend before doing a really tough hike.  Mt. Mitchell from the Black Mountain campground is 11.4 miles, 3700 vertical, and the hike I’m planning to do next weekend with the SMHC is 14 miles, 4500 vertical.  So you would think that this hike would be 81% as hard in distance and 82% as hard in vertical, or you could say 81.5% as hard overall, if you were obsessed with quantifying it.  But in reality, it is probably at best 50% as hard as the SMHC outing planned for next weekend up to Old Black via Indian Camp Creek, because of the off-trail factor.  I hope to report on that adventure next week.

What I liked best about the Mt. Mitchell hike was the forest of big, old red spruce above 4500 feet.  Perhaps the spruce are doing so well there because they are on the leeward side of the mountain.  Here is the base of a sturdy old survivor:

Its roots seemed to flow in all directions

On the top, the new generation of balsams looked quite bushy and healthy compared with the skeletal forest I saw here in 1995—the damage from the woolly adelgid was at its peak then.  But yesterday, it was hard to see through the fog.  The “informational viewboards” on the summit tower seemed guilty of false advertising.

The sign was so much brighter than the actual view

It wasn’t just the fog, it was the row of balsams in the way.  I wonder if these viewboards were taken from the old, much higher, pre-2007 tower. That structure featured a schizophrenic combination of stone and concrete.

I don’t know why, but it seemed utterly impossible to leave the summit without taking a picture of the sign.  I may have been the billionth person to photograph it.

This sign has been photographed by a few other people

Up in the fog, I saw a very interesting lichen (I think that’s what it was) growing on a balsam trunk.  It was in the shape of green leaves, almost like oak leaves.

I'd never seen anything quite like this

On the way back down, I took the slightly longer and very pleasant side loop that goes over the rapidly un-balding Higgins Bald.  (The formerly bald top is experiencing vegetational Rogaine.)  I must have been in a mood to enjoy large trees, because I noticed this monumental sugar maple in area of campsites:

Like the spruce, this maple had a liquid appearance

This was not a big wildflower hike, but I did spot a nice painted trillium.  All in all, a very enjoyable outing.  I plan to do much more exploring in the Black Mountains.

One of the two trilliums that also grows in New England

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Comments»

1. Gary Howell - May 4, 2010

I think the clouds find the top of Mt. Mitchell pretty often. We
were planning to do a hike there last fall and instead drove
down a thousand feet.

Sounds like a great hike.

2. Rick S - May 8, 2010

This looks great, even with “fog problems.”
Good luck this weekend with your big SMHC one…

3. kaslkaos - May 11, 2010

Painted trilliums don’t grow in ‘my neck of the woods’–nice to see, but I really love the oak shaped lichens, those look fabulous.
& only belated discovered ‘comments’ are easy to get to from my reader, yay (dial-up is such a pain).


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