Weston filled me in on a bike path right in Hickory that also had dirt trails but he told me about a small nearby mountain called Baker Mountain and a bigger one called South Mountain. He told me roughly how to get to them and invited me to run with his trail group on Wed at the trails in Hickory, We exchanged numbers and I was on my way. The next day after class I went to Baker Mountain and ran. It was very enjoyable but then it happened. I got to the top of Baker and got blessed with a view to the west and saw much bigger mountains. I instantly fell in love with this place and had a need for more of it. I descended and ran some of the lower trails till almost dark then drove to the hotel to plot my next adventure.
I had decided that I would take my running gear and as soon as class was over Tue I would drive to South Mountain and see what it had to offer. So after class I did just that! I stopped and got a trail map at the welcome center, changed my cloths and I was on my way up the trail. A few miles in there was an amazing water fall that seemed to attract a lot of attention, I just snapped a quick picture and was on my way. The trails were amazing and the climb was fun. I did not have time to get to the highest peak as it was on the other side of the mountain but I climbed up as far as I had time for and oh what a view. I knew then that I would have to come back and run those mountains I can still see off in the distance.
I did show up to meet Weston on Wed after class and got to meet Jody Gibson. Since only the 3 of us had been there to run we set out. the trails were fun and I learned a lot about the area and those mountains off in the distance. I then found out that the highest peak east of the Mississippi was in this range and its name was Mount Mitchell. From that day on it was my goal to come back and get to the top of that mountain. This was the last I would see of these 2 guys, though we do keep in contact on Face Book and Jody was instrumental in making my future trip a HUGE success. I was truly blessed to meet these 2 and hope one day I can return the favor here at home at Oil Creek State Park.
After I came home I knew I had to get back to the mountains, I truly loved the experience. I really wish I lived closer to some. But since I don't I planned my return. I knew since I had Mohican in June and OC in Oct it would have to be in the fall. I figured a few weeks after OC would be good and I should be healed up enough to do so. I asked Jody when the mountain started getting snow and he said after Dec things start to be a gamble so Nov. it was and I settled on Oct 31st- Nov 2nd. Over the next 8 months I planned, bounced ideas and trails off of Jody and got trail maps. I was set to go!
As luck would have it I also got word that my company was laying off so this trip now had another purpose, check out my companies facility in Asheville NC. Over the summer I spoke of the trip to my friend Adam during our runs and he thought he would like to go so I planned on that, later came his girl friend Heather so now we were 3. During the training build up for OC I mentioned it to my friend Bill and since he is off Mondays it didn't take him long to decided to go with us. So we planned to head out as soon as I got out of work on Friday the 30th.
The trip down was uneventful but fun. It was tough for us to stay awake and we rotated driving time so we could all get some rest. The plan was to get to the town of Black Mountain and hit the local running store ( Vertical Runner, Black Mountain running store) and then go run the Gray Beard Trail. This peak is at about 5300ft and would be about 8 miles round trip. I got frustrated early due to the group wanting to hike the trail. I ended up just taking off by myself and got to see some amazing views. I had a slight concern with how slow the others were going since it was beginning to rain and getting late. When I got near the top I found a look out that just took my breath away, I had never been at that elevation and all I can says is WOW. When I got to the top the view was amazing as well. I descended back down to meet the group and go back up with them. once there we were going to take a different trail down but since it was getting closer to dark we decided to just take the same trail down. Again they were hiking so I went the rest of the way down alone.
We stopped for dinner and went to Asheville to get a hotel room. We all got showered and got stuff ready for the next day. Adam and I were going over my plan for the trails to take up Mount Mitchell, thanks to Jody's advice. I did find out later that the route we took is likely one of the most technical in that part of the range, it was tough but also was great training. The other 3 went to sleep but I was not tired, even thought I had not really slept since Thursday night. I chatted with my wife for a bit and finally dozed off and got a few hours of sleep. We woke up and hit the Crackle Barrel for breakfast, huge disappointment. We loaded up and checked out of the hotel and set out on our hour drive to the Crest Trail head. We got started later than planned but didn't think it would be a problem since it was only about 18 miles round trip. I took a Amphipod 20 oz hand held, a few Hammer gels and a fig bar.
The first thing we noticed on the trail was how large the mountain laurel was, it was the biggest I have ever seen. The trail was not bad and it didn't seem to steep of a climb. It wasn't till much later that we found we underestimated this adventure. The trail turned technical really fast and some of the climbing was very tough. As we got further up the trail the views got more and more breathtaking. Being able to look over peaks that just a few hours ago were above us was amazing. We stayed together most of the day, unfortunately this turned into mostly a hike, which made it take much longer but it was cool to share the view with friends. One of the first WOW moments came as we came around a corner and had seen a huge fairly flat rock that looked wet and slippery while taking it easy getting up it I looked right and the mountain opened up to a unbelievable view.
As we crested peak after peak we did come upon hikers several times, we chatted with them then moved on. The trail got more an more difficult to climb, It was hard but amazing. I was amazed at all of the views and the nature, I have never experienced anything like it. We came upon a climb that someone must have thought was too tough so they anchored a rope to assist, we had fun with it but the climb really was not that hard. After a bit of time we heard voices again and came upon a couple more hikers at the peak of Big Tom, 6580 ft with an awesome view. We could now see the top of Mt. Mitchell and the hikers told us we were about 30-45 min from the top. As we go real close we found a couple rustic cabins and picnic tables, crossed the road and up a few steps, passed the ranger station and up a paved trail to the top! It was very overcast but we got what we came for and it was time to descend. I was getting concerned because I was running out of food and water, the water source at the top was turned off, for winter i assume.
It took some work to find the trail back down but after a bit we did find it, it was now starting to get dark and we had a long way to go. We moved fast to use up as much daylight as we could but we were not going to get to the bottom before dark. Thankfully 2 in the group brought a light source so we paired up and turned on the lights and pushed forward. the trail was not technical at all. More than a few times I questioned if we were on the right trail and it was getting later and later. I had long since run out of water and was saving my last gel, thankfully it was not hot and we did not push it hard when we were heading up so I was still good to go. After hours we finally hit the road.
I had directions for the road to get back to the car but Bill said he had it memorized so we went with it. Well it turned out he had it backwards so we got a bit extra time on the feet, made our correction and after many hours we were back at the car with many great memories. The plan was to head towards home when we were done but the other 3 wanted to get a hotel at this point. We went to the closest town and tried to find some place open to get some dinner, only place was McDonalds so I passed on it. We got a room and slept a few hours ate breakfast and then got on the road to head home.
Great trip over all. I plan to go back and do some more of the Black Mountain trails!
What I learned:
- dont plan on a time frame on trails you dont know
- make sure goals of the trip are clear with whoever is going along, will save a lot of unneeded frustration
- bring more wholesome food on the trip
- carry more Hammer gels than you think you will need.
- the mountains are more enchanting than I thought