Friday August 25th 2017: Mileage – not too many (?)
We definitely knew better than to blindly follow our GPS to the trail head, but for some reason we did it anyway. A 45 minute drive turned into a nearly 2 hour expedition on a windy unpaved road that our GPS claimed had a speed limit of 55 mph. The number of times you need to make a mistake in order to learn from it is yet to be determined.
The trail head was well concealed. After searching up and down the road, we finally resorted to asking a local who pointed us down a small road (Watershed Road) marked “private”. We parked the car in the mud and started up the Crest Trail, starting at around 3000ft in elevation and climbing steadily up to nearly 6000ft. If you’d like to feel out of shape, this trail is for you.
For some reason, I decided to start at a fast pace, and quickly wore myself out. About half way up I saw a bear moving among the trees and shouted at it:
I banged my poles together to get his attention.
“I’m not a bear,” replied the bear. That’s exactly the sort of thing a bear would say, I thought to myself.
We approached, and saw a man dressed mostly in black hunched over collecting firewood near his campsite with his wife. They shared information with us about upcoming water sources.
We made it up to the ridge and started on our peak bagging mission. Our first peak was Celo Knob, which had a nice trail from the south side which wasn’t too hard to find.
Next, we attempted to climb Horse Rock. We succeeded, but certainly not in a graceful fashion. We didn’t find a trail, and bushwhacked through horrible blackberry bushes as tall as John to reach the summit, covered in blood. The lack of trail should have been a clue that this peak was not one of the official 6000ft peaks on the peak bagging list of “South Beyond 6000ft challenge”. Who checks these things before heading out anyway?
Then we hit Gibbs Mountain, which had somewhat of a trail to the top. The top was sort of lumpy so it was hard to tell which point the actual top was. We put our little tootsies on all of them just to be sure.
Then the Crest Trail continues up and over Winter Star, but we weren’t sure if the peak was on the trail or not, and so we kept scrambling to the top of random things just in case. Which was dumb. None of them were Winter Star.
As darkness fell, we managed to find a campsite and ate our lovely Ramen dinner. As we sat there, we noticed that there was a salamander on a tree next to us. Upon further inspection, there were salamanders everywhere. On almost every tree. Poking their little heads out of holes at the base of trees. We spent some time taking pictures and baby-talking to our new neighbors.
Saturday August 26th: Mileage – vaguely doable amount (?)
We got up and immediately investigated whether our friends, the salamanders, where still around, and mostly they had retreated into their holes, but we saw our one friend still poking his head out looking at us with curiosity. We bid him farewell and hiked out.
Not long after we started hiking, we hit the summit of Winter Star. There was a bench mark there to prove it.
We passed some folks camping near Deep Gap who were impressed that we had come up from Watershed Road. I was impressed too. My legs, however, were less impressed.
We hiked on to the top of Mt Mitchell and spent $5 on some soda, some fudge rounds and a bottle of Gatorade because I had forgotten to bring my pee bottle, and had to begrudgingly get out of the tent the night before to relieve myself. Yes, I know, I’m lazy.
We continued on the Old Mount Mitchell Trail so as to hit Hallback Mt, which had a pretty well defined trail to the top along with a freaking sign post once we hit the summit! I would have never guessed.
We collected water at the Ranger Station and walked across the road to a gravel road to try to get to Mount Gibbs. We left the gravel road and followed a questionable utility line up the mountain until we hit a strange house and from there easily found the top of the mountain. Back from the house we easily followed the overhead power line trail back to the road, which would have been the more obvious way up to the top (oh well, again, no research).
We then thought we’d hit Clingman Peak, but there was a giant fence around it, so that peak was a no-go. I’m guessing it’s not on the official list. I still haven’t checked.
To the right of the peak, the gravel road continued and was marked “private trail” with another sign reading “no trespassing”. This road lead us to a very fancy house, which we tiptoed up to, looking for a trail. The trail happened to be right in front of it. Nobody seemed to be home, thankfully. We traveled swiftly into the forest to follow the Boundary “Trail” to Potato Knob. We lost the “trail” many times, but always somehow found it again.After we hit the peak, the trail was steep, hard to follow and overgrown. This is probably understatement. I couldn’t have been happier to have an altimeter. Upon further investigation, Potato Knob is also not on the official list. Don’t ask me why we checked.
We finally hit the MST and there was a simultaneous sigh of relief. Heading away from Mt. Mitchell, we hiked the MST in order to bag our final peak, Blackstock Knob. Since dark was falling, we decided to camp somewhere near Rainbow Gap.
Sunday August 27th: Mileage – waaaay too many (?)
Sunday: the day of rest; so we slept in an extra 10 minutes and headed in the direction of Blackstock Knob, probably the most unremarkable peak of our trip. We hit it fairly quickly, but to be sure, hiked down the other side to find the “overhanging rock” as written in the CMC MST data book as being on the other side of the peak. Mind you, there’s nothing but rocks in this section, so who knows.We turned around to hike the MST in the other direction to the Buncome Horse Trail all the way to Big Tom Spur which got us past the summit of Mt. Mitchell. It was flat and wet, but our feet were already soaking wet from the rain which had only started to subside since dawn, so it didn’t matter much. Big Tom Spur was steep, but by this point “steep” had kind of lost its meaning. The rain subsided, and we reached the beloved Crest Trail once more. I was feeling fairly tired, but as usual, my mind was doing little mileage calculations and I realized that we could potentially make it down to the car instead of camping another night. I gobbled some swedish fish gummies and hiked on. We hiked up and down and up and down and the trail was just as hard as it was two days ago. We passed several perfectly good camping spots, and each time I looked at my watch and said to John “want to keep going?” Soon the trail left the crest and started to head down. Again, thank god I have an altimeter, because my feet and my knees were so sore that every 100 ft felt like 500 ft. I groaned practically every other step. We heard a bear, but it ran away before I could introduce myself, so we kept hiking some more. Darkness was falling, and I started walking like a penguin. Hiker hobble, they call it. Too many miles.
Just after 8pm we got down to the car, and we started dreaming of all the things we would eat and drink once we got home.
Upon returning home, we looked up the “official rules” of the South Beyond 6000ft (SB6K) challenge, and they seem arbitrary and, frankly, too complicated. Plus on the official CMC rules page, it says “under construction”, so who knows what that means. I realize that peak bagging, like many other hiking and running pursuits (like being a white blaze purist on the AT, which, of course we were to a stupid degree during our thru-hike), is by its nature a completely frivolous sport. So, who knows, we probably won’t actually apply as official challenge finishers, even if we do wind up completing the list (and then some). The biggest reason being that it would mean keeping track of all the random details they want you to keep track of. Plus, who wants to pay $10 for a patch that’ll just weigh us down in the future? Thoughts about the SB6k challenge welcome!