Ascent of Mount Mitchell on 2017-07-09

Climber: Zachary Robbins

Date:Sunday, July 9, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Mitchell
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:6684 ft / 2037 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is a really nice peakbagging loop in the Black Mountains that I've done before, this time I tracked it for my general audience. You can bag five 6K peaks on my track, and six if you add Potato Hill. The reason I was hiking was to knock out Cattail Peak, one of two remaining 6K peaks in the Blacks on my challenge lists. As a bonus, this relatively short hike boasts outstanding views, and will take you far away from the crowds around Mt. Mitchell.

Even though it was cloudy and kind of early, Mt. Mitchell was already crowded. Fortunately, once I started down the Balsam Nature Trail everyone disappeared. This stretch of the Balsam Nature Trail and Mt. Mitchell Trail is among the best corridors of rare southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest you will find. At Commissary Hill go left on the Buncombe Horse Range Trail which follows the eastern shoulder of the Blacks. After I passed a volunteer clearing a blowdown, I did not see another person for 4 hours. In the middle of summer, on a weekend. That gives you an idea of the solitude you can get on this loop. The horse trail is flat, rocky, and wet most of the time so be prepared to get your feet wet from the constant puddles. The first major overlook is nicknamed Fork Ridge Bald, which is a mini version of Maple Camp Bald. This is a good spot for a break and pictures but is inferior to Maple Camp Bald.

The trail between Fork Ridge and the Big Tom Gap Trail is nicer, but after the trail junction it is heavily overgrown until you reach Maple Camp Bald. The bald is a grassy pinnacle with outstanding views of the central Black Mtns and the South Toe River Valley. A great spot for lunch and isolated camping. Next I tackled the exaggerated climb up the Big Tom Gap Trail. It is steep but short, not nearly as hard as some describe. The trail is in fine condition so I'd ignore books and websites saying it is abandoned and wild.

My report link below does not include my hike to Cattail Peak, but my track and video include the full hike. The climb up Balsam Cone is not too bad, but the stretch between Balsam Cone and Cattail Peak is longer than I remembered. When you level out near an old campsite there is a wooden sign with Cattail Peak elevation. This sign is wrong, you are not at the summit. Quite a few users on this site have claimed the peak here. I wish the state park would remove it or add an explainer. To bag the peak keep following the trail north and when it starts turning left continue straight into the woods. You might be able to pick up a faint path, but the summit it close. I made it in a few minutes, this is one of the easiest off-trail 6K peaks you'll encounter. Other than a few narrow squeezes through trees and climbing over blowdowns, you shouldn't have an issue.

The hike back to Mt. Mitchell is very familiar to most users on here. Nothing too difficult, and fantastic views from the cliff below Big Tom and the rocks of Mt. Craig. I even added the Mt. Mitchell summit even though it was very crowded. If I'm doing a hike in the area, it feels obligatory to trudge up to the top amidst the wheezing tourists. A great day in the Blacks, definitely the best loop you can make in this mountain range.

Hike report

Hike video
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.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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