Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crest Trail Part III

The hike back to the Mount Mitchell parking lot was a bit of a torture for me after I left Cattail Peak for the last time. The thing about the Crest Trail is that you hit each of these amazing 6,000-foot summits, but after each of these you have to plunge down into the deep gaps that separate them. Thus, you are constantly losing and then having to regain that lost altitude.

I've never seen a profile map of the trail, but it has to be extreme. The constant up and down really works your muscles and lungs even when you don't have a bum knee and a really bad back. For me, it's exceedingly tough and by the time I was less than halfway back I was struggling. Fortunately, I'd started the hike early enough so that I didn't have a problem with daylight and for the first time ever for this trail I'd brought more than enough water.

So, the last three miles for me consisted of LOTS of stopping to rest and LOTS of water breaks and LOTS of extra photography.

Someday, when I'm recovered from all of these injuries, I hope to be able to do this trail as I used to be able to do it when I was in better physical condition. When that happens, I'll do another overnight traverse of the Black Mountains and camp in Deep Gap, one of my favorite campsites in North Carolina.

It was cold up in them thar hills! First icicle of the hiking season!

Some of the best views are from Potato Hill.

On the top of Cattail Peak.

The almost constant moisture on these peaks produces a LOT of moss.

Green, my friends.

The trail is like a tunnel through the red spruce.

Everywhere the moss.

Trees grasping for purchase anywhere.

This is why the trail kicks my ass.

Gnarly snag on Mount Craig as I hit the home stretch.

A last, longing look back where I had been.

Fall paints the lower peaks.

This peak below was interesting because of the difference in vegetation from one side to the other. Evergreens on the north-facing slopes, hardwoods south-facing.

The picnic area just below the summit of Mount Mitchell is EXTREMELY nice! I highly recommend it. They have dozens of picnic tables for the huge crowds that often gather on the mountain to enjoy the scenery and the natural beauty of eastern USA's highest peak.

I took this one between Mount Craig and the parking lot. And there she was: Mount Mitchell. The highest summit in eastern USA. Yeah, it has a road carved into it; a restaurant near the top; a museum just below the summit; a tower on the very top; housing for the park rangers, etc. But even all of that can't wreck the beauty of this amazing peak and its associated range.

Quiet time on Cattail Peak.


Mark Gelbart said...

How long is the trail?

James Robert Smith said...

If you hike the entire trail from Mitchell down to Bowlens Creek, it's eleven miles. If you just hike from Mitchell to Deep Gap, it's a bit over five miles. There are lots of connector trails, too, so you can do all kinds of loops and long hikes.

I've only hiked the entire length one time. I did it as a two-day hike and it almost killt me. First day I hiked from Mitchell to Deep Gap where I set up camp. Early the next morning I got up and (without breaking camp)hiked from my tent almost to the Bowlens Creek trailhead, mainly to bag the 6K-foot peaks on the northern half of the trail. Having accomplished that, I headed back to the gap, broke camp, and hiked back to Mitchell.

The hike all but did me in. I didn't have enough water for the hike back to Mitchell and ran out. Then developed hideous leg cramps as the minerals sweated out of me. I was all but crawling by the time I got back to the parking lot.

Next time I do the whole Crest Trail from Mitchell to Bowlens Creek, I will do it as an overnighter and have someone drop me off at Mitchell and pick me up the following afternoon at Bowlens Creek.

James Robert Smith said...

Also...there are NO water sources on the trail. None, whatsoever. The only reliable place to replenish water are springs at Deep Gap. And those are not in the gap itself. You have to drop down from the gap to either the east or west to find springs. Most people go down the Colbert Ridge Trail to a spring, but I prefer to drop down toward an old jeep trail on the opposite side where I've found springs closer to my campsite.