Ascent of Mount Mitchell on 2019-01-06

Climber: Zachary Robbins

Date:Sunday, January 6, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Mitchell
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:6684 ft / 2037 m

Ascent Trip Report

Hike #1 for the Black Mountains Hiking Challenge

My first hike of 2019 on January 6, revisiting the Mount Mitchell Trail to begin my first of seven hikes for the Black Mountains Hiking Challenge. This relatively new challenge by the NC High Peaks Trail Association requires a hiker to complete all 23 official trail and trail segments in the Black Mountains for a total of 66.4 miles. As a miniature version of the Pisgah 400 or Smokies 900, I thought this would be a great challenge to tackle given my experience hiking in the Blacks and its closer proximity to my residence. To my dismay, the official challenge start date was January 1, 2018, and I had not hiked in the Blacks during all of 2018. That meant I needed to re-hike almost every trail on the challenge list which includes some of the toughest trails in North Carolina. My goal was to finish the challenge in 2019 and hike it efficiently. I mapped out 7 day hikes that only included one shuttle, and thought the best way to begin the challenge was starting with the Mount Mitchell Trail.

The Mount Mitchell Trail begins at the Black Mountain Campground hiker's parking lot, briefly following the River Loop Trail and Briar Bottom Bicycle Trail parallel to the South Toe River. Then the trail leaves the river and begins a continuous climb from the South Toe River to Mount Mitchell, climbing over 3,600 feet in 5.8 miles. Many books and websites claim this is one of the toughest trails in the Southeast, but this is not the case. The consistent elevation change per mile is moderately strenuous but never too steep for someone with average fitness levels. In the Black Mountains alone, I consider the Colbert Ridge, Woody Ridge, and Black Mountain Crest Trails more difficult.

The first mile had recent improvements with log steps and a bridge over Little Mountain Creek. Around the 2-mile mark I decided to check out the unofficial trail along Open Ridge, which was mistakenly referred to as Little Mountain in the video. This spur leads to an overlook with decent views of the valley and the central Blacks. I then climbed past Setrock Creek and the campsites near the microburst damage before encountering the first lingering snow/ice around 5,000 feet near the powerline section. On my previous hike I encountered ice monorail here, but it had been much warmer leading up to this hike. I only began to see long sections of monorail above 6,200 feet in the state park, and even then they were manageable without ice traction. The toughest section was arguably the north side of the Balsam Nature Loop Trail, which lies in the northern shadow of Commissary Ridge. The ice was slick here, and I had to do this section twice since I had to turn around at the parking lot in order to finish both sections of the loop trail.

I do not think I've ever had clearer views from the top of Mount Mitchell. In my estimation I had 100 miles of visibility. As you'll see in the video, I could see Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain in Virginia, the Sauratown Mountains in north central NC, possibly the Uwharrie Mountains in central NC, and the Charlotte skyline and Kings Mountain range in south central NC. The views were so phenomenal, I stayed at the summit for nearly an hour despite bitterly cold wind. Next I took the Old Mitchell Trail south from the summit to connect with the Camp Alice Trail. The ice covering these rocky, steep trails was the toughest hiking of the day. Then I followed the Commissary Trail and Buncombe Horse Range Trail back to the Mount Mitchell Trail. On the way down I took the alternate Higgins Bald Ground Trail even though it was not required for the challenge. Overall it was a fantastic return to the Black Mountains after more than a year away, and probably my favorite summit ever of Mount Mitchell.

Distance - 12.9 miles
Elevation gain - 3,980 feet
Time - 8 hours and 30 minutes

Trails completed:
Mount Mitchell Trail <190>
Balsam Nature Loop Trail
Camp Alice Trail
Higgins Bald Ground Trail <190A>
Mountains-to-Sea Trail <440>, sections 440a & 440b
Summary Total Data
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Zachary Robbins
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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