The Highest Peak

Mount Mitchell peak

The Blue Ridge Mountains from the peak of Mount Mitchell

We’ve been working up to hiking Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi with an elevation 6,684 feet. In early June, we hiked around Dupont State Forest, touring three waterfalls in what would comparatively be a ramble. Then we ventured past the fence of the N.C. Arboretum, hike 13 miles of mostly wide bike trails, three of which felt like they were exclusively uphill.  That should have been preparation for the Mount Mitchell hike, which rises more than a mile over a distance of 5.6 miles from Black Mountain campground. There’s shorter paths too, and that’s important to note; however, we wanted the complete experience and the pride of saying we hiked the highest peak.

Mounta Mitchell sign

5.6 miles to go

The terrain starts as mostly sanding paths, becoming solid stones that glitter with pieces of mica. Signs of campgrounds show through the few open, flat spaces, where we rested frequently.  At probably a mile and a half up, the trail splits with small red on white sign pointing both directions. We picked the right because of the handwritten addendum that it is shorter, but who knows if that is true. It could also be steeper. That route took us across several streams and the path became rockier, with loose stones hidden under the grasses that arched over the path and larger rocks taking several steps to climb and cross.  The dog loved it. The humans had a trickier time, but we all made it to the top in time to eat lunch.

At that point, we joined the crowd. Because Mount Mitchell is such a strenuous climb, there’s also a road option, and the parking lot takes you to a concession stand where you can purchase cider and trail bars, not that you would need them on the mere 200-yard paved walk to the look-out point. It’s still steep, and the weather can probably change during the accent, but it’s nothing near the climb and climate of the Mount Mitchell trail. And that’s the problem.  After hiking that hardest trail to date, we would have preferred the solitude and satisfaction of reaching the top where few others had gone. However, it is nice that Mount Mitchell is accessible to almost everyone, as the expansive views are hard to beat, but the cloud cover obscured a few angles.

On our hike back down, we encountered high humidity, a rain shower that didn’t quite reach us on the ground thanks to the forest overhead, and several trips and falls due to our tired legs (that was mostly me, but I’ll attribute it to the group anyway).  That might have been the lowest point of the hike.

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