The pointless hobby of peak bagging: Mount Mitchell and 11 other peaks.

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:

“Hey Bear!!”

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.

Our favorite little neighbor salamander


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 got one of the many tourists at the summit to take our picture.

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.

A sign on top of a mountain! Wow.

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.

We followed these for way too long

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.

Rock outcropping near the top of Potato Knob

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.

Not the “overhanging rock” but one of many rocks near the trail

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.

We found these beautiful grass-of-parnassus on the Buncombe Horse Trail

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?”

Wondering if we should move on along the Crest Trail

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!

Grandfather Mountain

On Friday afternoon we were able to leave work a few hours early in order to get a quick overnight trip to Grandfather Mountain.  We had a really great time, and recommend this park to anyone who wants to visit  a jungle gym for outdoor enthusiasts. What a great use of a day and a half!!!

The main entrance at Grandfather Mountain requires folks to pay $20 per person to enter the park, and also requires you to return to your vehicle and leave the park by 5pm.  So in order to go backpacking in the park, you have to enter from one of the other sides (and conveniently you then do not need to pay the $20 per person).

So we parked at the Boone Fork Parking Area off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and began our hike.

Friday September 23rd,  6.6 miles

We got to the parking area at around 4pm and started hiking up the Nuwati Trail to our first view at Story Teller’s Rock


Dirt Stew noticed a spring in my step, and I think it was because of the new pack I was carrying.  I’ll post a separate little review on that shortly.  Until we got onto the Cragway Trail, the tread-way was fairly easy.


Once we got onto Cragway Trail, things became more challenging, but the views were fantastic.  We followed the Cragway Trail to the Daniel Boone Scout Trail to the Grandfather Trail.



One of many ladders

At the beginning of the hike when we registered our trip at the trail head, we had to pick which campsite we wanted to stay at.  Not knowing anything about the various campsites, we chose Attic Window.  We passed many other campsites on our way to Attic Window.  The sun started setting and we were rewarded by stunning views and a beautiful sunset.




We were glad not to spend too much time hiking into the darkness as the terrain was very challenging and I was worried about making a wrong step or a wrong move in the darkness.  But, once we got to Attic Window Campsite, we were both a bit disappointed because there was only a  small wooden platform and one very sloped spot on the ground to pitch a tent.  And it wasn’t like there were any other spots that were already taken.  We were the only ones there.

Since we do not have a free standing tent, we pitched  on the sloped spot (I usually prefer sleeping on the ground over a platform anyway).  It was quite uncomfortable and we kept sliding around so, and in the middle of the night, Dirt Stew decided to leave the tent and go sleep on the wooden platform under the stars.


Saturday September 24th, 9.8 miles

We got up in the morning and took a only few steps along the trail before we understood why this spot was called Attic Window.  It was obvious.  We were definitely up high, and there was definitely a window!


Looking down Attic Window first thing in the morning.  The trail goes down the chute.

We headed further along Grandfather Trail to MacRae Peak.  This section had many ladders and ropes and even a huge rock scramble that reminded us of Mahoosuc Notch on the Appalachian Trail.


This reminded us of Mahoosuc Notch


This is a seriously fun trail


A series of ladders


Lots of ladders



We finally made it to the other parking lot (the one you have to pay for), and we refilled our water bladders at the visitors center and bought some post cards.  Then we headed over on the swinging bridge and followed some easier trails to Grandmother View.  That was not as worth it after the fantastic views we had earlier on the trip, but we did get a view of the whole mountain range from there including the swinging bridge.  We also saw a little garter snake along the way.


View of Attic’s Window.  I’m not sure if you can see, but there’s a cute in the rocks on the left hand side, and that’s where we came down off the top, where we camped.

We then retraced our footsteps for most of the way back except that we tried to do every alternative trail that we could find.  The Underwood Trail was much a much easier alternate that avoided many ladders and did not summit MacRae Peak.  The only trail in the park that we wound up not completing was the Profile Trail.  This was basically out of laziness (or rather tired legs).  However, there did not seem to be much on the Profile Trail worth seeing, and it would have added another 6.2 miles and a ton of elevation to our hike.  We were content with returning to our car in the late afternoon so we could make it home for dinner.

All in all this was a terrific trip, and definitely worth it.  It was especially good for a short trip, since there aren’t many trails and the park is fairly small.  The trails are super fun, challenging, and very rewarding.