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Black Mountain crest July 8, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Black Mountains, hiking.
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Sunrise from camp at Deep Gap

Three of us set forth to traverse the ridge of the Black Mountains. We started at the northern terminus of the Black Mountain Crest trail at Bowlens Creek, hiked eight miles to Deep Gap (approximately 3500 vertical feet total). The second day, we journeyed from Deep Gap about 4.5 miles (the information sources vary on the mileage) to the summit of Mt. Mitchell and returned to Deep Gap for a second night. It’s hard to estimate the elevation gain for Day Two with all of its little ups and downs over 6000+ peaks, but it is probably around 2200 feet out and back. The third day, we descended 3.7 miles and 2900 vertical feet on the Colbert Ridge trail to our shuttled car.

Our team consisted of Terri Cox, Nan Woodbury, and myself.

It would have been possible to combine the itineraries of the second and third days, but our idea was to relax on the summit of The Highest Point East Of The Mississippi (6,684′) and simply to enjoy being up on the crest of a range that is remarkable in its dimensions. Also, there were a few foot issues.

Nan experimented with solutions for Terri's feet

Terri is a very experienced backpacker who doesn’t usually have foot problems. But a new pair of Asolo boots just seemed to be determined to destroy her feet.  We tried combinations of bandaids, duct tape, gauze cut into different shapes, and medical tape. Nothing really worked. At the very end of the outing, Terri was wearing an Asolo boot on the less problematic foot and a Teva-type sandal on the other.

I don’t usually have foot problems either, but my legs and feet were not a pretty sight.

Well, some of the bruises and scratches dated back

It seemed to be the combination of full packs, the rugged and rocky ups and downs, and socks that were especially, delightfully sweaty (stinky too, of course) from the unusually warm conditions.

It took us a little bit of driving back and forth to find the Bowlens Creek trailhead (which is more of an ATV trail that turns into a footpath). The magic words are: Water Shed Road, off state road 1109 south of Burnsville. That is your ticket to success.

The climb was fairly gradual through anonymous hardwoods, then into red spruce, and finally out onto the crest near Celo Knob (6327′). The trail is a bit overgrown in this northern section.

Can you see the trail?

We waded through blackberries, St. Johns Wort, and generally a profusion of green leafy vegetation. We got our first views looking south along the crest.

Looking south from near Celo Knob

In case anyone is wondering, no, we didn’t go over the summits that were bypassed by the trail. This wasn’t a peakbagging mission.

Much to our surprise, after we made the tough descent from Winter Star (6203′), we found about 30 people camping in Deep Gap (5700′). There was a trail crew, a youth group, and what looked like several large family groups. There wasn’t a lot of space for our tents, but we found what turned out to be quite a nice flat, grassy spot to pitch them side by side.

A bit dark---Nan and Terri, and our three side-by-side tents

On both of our outings, my companions have completely put me to shame with their tasty, complex menus of backpacking food. Fortunately, it doesn’t actually bother me that much to be the “boring food person.” I had Thai noodles with Spam. Hmm, maybe that’s weird enough not to be boring.

So we climbed over (or close to) the summits of Cattail Peak (6600′), Balsam Cone (6611′), Big Tom (6581′), Mt. Craig (6647′), and finally to Mitchell. The ascents and descents were rocky and steep, and reminded me very much of northern New England: the balsams and spruce, the mountain ash and birch, the northern plants like Clintonia lily. There were a couple of steep, rocky places where a fixed rope had been provided. I didn’t think the ropes were necessary, but some people (like a cheery guy that we passed) thought they were fun. I realize I’m a New England hiking snob: there are many places like Huntington Ravine, Great Gulf, King Ravine, Great Gully, and the Castles that are harder and don’t have ropes. But that’s okay.

Looking from Mt. Craig to Mt. Mitchell

The closer we got to the top of Mitchell, the more improved the trail became, until it turned into something like a walkway in a formal garden.

Quite different from trail conditions further north!

So we lunched, went up to the observation deck, and generally milled around the summit for a while.

Jenny near Mitchell summit

We took our time getting back to Deep Gap and had a relaxing dinner before settling in for the night. The next day, our descent into Colbert Ridge was punctuated by episodes of Foot Issues, but we made it down to the car, shuttled back to the north, and enjoyed a patch of incredibly delicious ripe blackberries (people driving by were slowing down and staring at the three women who were picking the berries with remarkable speed and efficiency, tasting all along the way)!

Resting on the return from Mitchell to Deep Gap