Monday, October 21, 2013

My Favorite Trail. The Toughest Trail.

There are several trails here in North Carolina that I have hiked a number of times. I tend to go back to places for several reasons. Sometimes it's because conditions were not good on earlier attempts and I want to see them in better weather or without crowds or companions. (I prefer my hiking in solitude, thank you very much.) Sometimes I will go back to a place because it's just so beautiful and so freaking awesome.

The Black Mountain Crest Trail (also known as The Deep Gap Trail) is in this latter group. I keep going back because the trail is unique in North Carolina. It follows the high ridge of the highest mountain range in the eastern USA. Often, these peaks are called "the highest east of the Mississippi", which is categorically wrong. There are much higher peaks than the Blacks east of the Mississippi dividing line in northern Canada. One of these, Barbeau Peak, is almost 2,000 feet higher than Mount Mitchell. But these mountains are the highest in the eastern USA.

The thing about this trail is that the scenery is stunning. I read a recent essay that claims that the Black Mountains underwent some relatively new mountain building in the form of a bizarre kind of miniature plate tectonics. The range does have a weird "J" shape to it, and the author postulates that a small tectonic plate was forced into the range, warping and uplifting it, making it the highest in the Appalachians.

Because of this tortured terrain, this trail is extremely rugged. Some of it is Class II and Class III hiking. Indeed, the park service has even recently installed bolts and ropes to aid hikers in traversing some of the steeper sections. And, even though I've hiked this trail a number of times, it always kicks my ass. Almost every time I go I end up with vicious leg cramps that result from the constant ascents and descents or lack of water, etc. Keep in mind that this trail follows the high ridge and so does not have any reliable water source. You either take enough water with you, or suffer accordingly.

This latest hike was no exception. I did take enough water with me this time, but because of my old knee surgery and my back injury from last year, I found myself at odds with the mountains and the trail. Yet again, it kicked my ass. Also, hikers I've spoken to insist that elevations of 5,000 to 6,000 feet do not effect you as far as altitude sickness are concerned. I do not agree. On this hike I felt some of the exact symptoms I had when I was in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado last September. Especially on my hike back toward Mount Mitchell. Nausea, shortness of breath, etc.

But will I go back? Sure as shit, I will. In fact, I can't wait to go back and do the section I didn't have time for yesterday: the stretch from Deep Gap to Bowlens Creek Road. That's the section I've done the least and one which I am itching to do again. Only when my health is better.

Potato Knob. It's one of the most striking peaks in the Blacks, but not on the Crest Trail. Here it's seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Park entrance.

The trail actually begins here, in the Mount Mitchell picnic area.

The first sections of the trail are extremely well engineered and maintained.

At the first overlook, peering back at Mount Mitchell and Clingman's Peak (with the towers).

First sign requesting hikers to stay on the trail and not trample rare plants.

The log borders the park service has installed. People mainly stay inside, except where the cliffs are concerned. Hikers breach the barriers at will and trample all over the cliffs, stopping any chance of restoration there.

Part of the cliffs where hikers ignore the signs to stay off. Obviously great views to be had there, I have to admit. I stayed on the trail to get this shot.

The Blacks have always reminded me of a cresting wave getting ready to crash down into the valley on the other side.

Looking down at Fall colors.

The view as I got just below the summit of Mount Craig. Sorry for the heavy breathing. Injuries and altitude combined to make the climb a tough one for me.

Continued tomorrow....


Vicki said...

I can see why this is your favorite trail. Did you have to share it with anyone else?

The fall colours are magnificent. Australian natives aren't deciduous.

James Robert Smith said...

I did encounter about a dozen people on the trail. All but four of them were okay folk...just brief "hello" and they were gone. But one group of four I kept encountering as we passed one another. One of the members was a babbling woman who just would. not. shut. up. I could hear them coming from about a quarter mile in either direction because she was always yapping ceaselessly. Then, next to last time I bumped into them, they were eating lunch IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL! This was on a VERY narrow portion of trail on a STEEP section where there was NO room to maneuver around, and so I had to carefully pick my way through them. Total, selfish assholes.

The first time I hiked this trail I didn't see another person. Of course that was on a weekday and not a Sunday.

Marie, LMB said...

Superb nature shots and view as well, so glad they posted those signs just hope people listen to them.

James Robert Smith said...

They seem to, now. Before they put in the log borders people tramped the vegetation down. Not it's beginning to recover.