Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The East's Highest Mountain

The Black Mountains of North Carolina have the highest peaks in the eastern USA. Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig are the first and second highest bits of land on this side of the country. The drive up to Mitchell is always interesting because of the change in weather one experiences from the foothills up to the summit parking lot. In our case we drove up from temperatures of about 90 to the upper 60s by the time we climbed out of the truck at the top.

The Black Mountains also remain my favorite hiking destination, especially for backpacking. This is because the trails are relatively uncrowded. Sometimes I do encounter some people when I'm camping in the back country there, but generally I can find some real solitude and quiet. In addition, there's not a lot of this type of country in the South, so it's a very unique and precious area. The forests and the animals who live within it are all very delicate and fragile. I never get tired of the Black Mountains.
The entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park with Commissary Ridge in the background. A couple of decades ago the forests here were all but dead. You can still see the bleached trunks of dead balsam trees (the source of the range's name). But the trees have made quite an amazing comeback and now it's possible to hike in the shade again where the ridges had become sunny from the dying trees, killed by invasive pests and acid rain.

The park office and the road leading up to the summit area.

This is the new trail to the top. It's now paved and well graded so that access is easy even for the disabled.

Carole at the summit sign.

Carole took this of me on the top of the new observation platform.

I'm resting here on the tomb of Elisha Mitchell, for whom the peak is named. He was convinced that this mountain was the highest in the East and died climbing down after another trip to make readings to prove his position that it was, indeed, higher than any other peak in the eastern USA. He was right, but died when he slipped and fell from a waterfall on the way down the mountain.

Carole walks down ahead of me as I stop to take photos.

I enjoy walking off trail on Mitchell. The balsam forests here are so much different from the kinds of woodlands I'm accustomed to that I never tire of them.

Just a nice view I found while wandering around off the main trail.

Spruce trees.

This sign is at the parking lot. Even this point is higher than all but a few peaks in the southern USA.

From that point I took this shot of Mount Craig, the eastern USA's second highest mountain. It's worth the hike over to observe the exposed summit and the great views from the clifftops.

Next, the run up to Craggy Gardens.

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