Mountains-to-Sea Trail - Mt. Mitchell
Starting with 320.9 miles, 48,950 ft. ascent
NC 128 to Black Mountain Campground
11.4 miles, 1,600 ft. ascent
Sharon and I are now far enough along the MST that we can no longer stay at my house in Asheville. From now on, we'll be camping, backpacking and motelling to continue our MST hike. On this section, we camped.
I arrived at Black Mountain Campground at 5 P.M. on Tuesday and started looking for a campsite. Once over the bridge, I made a left turn and ended up at the group campsites. I asked a worker where the individual sites were.
I told him that "I was not really interested in atmosphere or privacy since we were here to hike the MST." When I said MST, his eyes lit up and he started telling me his whole MST life story of 20 years ago.
Tom Braxton, retired from AIG, started volunteering for the MST. He explained that 20 years ago, he worked on the MST in Carteret County in Croatan National Forest in Eastern North Carolina. " What happened to the trail?" he wanted to know.
"Well, it became a state park in 2000. You know the trail graduated." Also, "There's now a Friends of the MST, which does the actual trail building." I thought he was looking for a job on the MST. "Only volunteers work on the trail." I showed him Walter Weber's book. He was happy to have been updated.
Wednesday, we started on the trail at 7:30 A.M. and enjoyed the cool wet grass on the flat section of the MST on our way to Mt. Mitchell. The trail stayed flat and shaded for almost four miles. There were plenty of purple-fringed orchids, past their prime. None of the pictures were as glorious as the ones on Lunch Rocks, last week.
Once at Camp Alice, the trail climbed steeply through the spruce-fir eastern Canadian environment. Camp Alice, built around 1914, was a tourist destination for people who wanted to see Mt. Mitchell. It had a dining tent and several sleeping tents. Tourists came up by railroad to Camp Alice and then climbed to the top. Once logging stopped, the railroad was no longer profitable for just visitors and Camp Alice closed as well.
We're now in Mt. Mitchell State Park and, though steep, the trails are well maintained and signed. We reached the top at about 10 A.M. and headed straight to the snack bar. I was hot and sweaty but a cup of hot tea with my granola bar was a great luxury. I was surprised that the snack bar was run by the State Parks themselves and not a concession.
We climbed to the tower (see picture above) and saw one group of visitors, the first we had seen today. It was just too early for the masses.
As the plaque on the left says, Mt. Mitchell is the highest point in the East (6,684 ft.). The new tower was opened at the end of 2007. It requires less climbing than the old tower and will need less maintenance. Elisha Mitchell, for whom the mountain is named, is buried at the tower site.
It was a long down from here but not necessarily easy. The trail was in the woods most of the time, though we did get a few wonderful views. We met one trail runner and, further down, two backpackers coming up. We reached the campground at 2:30 P.M. and actually relaxed some and put our feet in the South Toe River, which ran alongside the campground.
After a shower, we drove back to the park to eat dinner in the restaurant. Their main courses were the usual park foods - hamburger, spaghetti, trout and fried chicken - but they had pies. We celebrated with pie.
This is the end of the Carolina Mountain Club maintenance area. We were very comfortable with the high level of trail maintenance that the club provides. We also finished Walt Weber's Trail Profiles and Maps book.
To review, we hiked the Smokies and the CMC section of the MST. Both provided good trails and great documentation. Now, we'll have to prepare more and trust that the white circles will be there. Stay tuned.
Cumulative after day 28, 332.3 miles, 50,550 ft. ascent