Behind me is where Elisha Mitchell is buried. He dedicated his life to this mountain; and sadly, he died while trying to cross a waterfall near the mountain. He is also the person, who bushwhacked the Old Mt. Mitchell trail.
Mt. Mitchell is one of those places that stands apart from the ordinary. It’s dramatic summit is the highest point east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. It also was the inspiration for one of the nation’s first state parks. When I decided to hike the Old Mt. Mitchell trail from the ranger station to the summit, I didn’t count on a hurricane visiting the area the week before me.
After about a mile into the hike, we realized that downed trees, a wet trail, and plenty of steep scrambles up rocks, would change our full plans. We hiked back to the car, and drove up to a point that was closer to the summit and hiked on to the top. In all we hiked just over 3.7 rough and rugged miles, which included scrambling over wet rocks and sliding down from short rocky heights. It was enough to claim our next mountain peak as being done!
The spruce-fir forest at the top of Mount Mitchell is well on the rebound after almost being destroyed a few years ago by disease and aphids. You can climb the mountain from May to the end of October. Then it closes for the season because of changing weather conditions that include ice and snow! In fact, snow has been reported on the top of Mt. Mitchell even in the month of July!
For my “bear-interested” friends: there were no bear sightings on this trip! I got the official “word” from a park ranger as we began our hike. “Oh, we have bears, but ours are more like raccoons—nocturnal!” LOL!
I really don’t believe that, but she seemed very satisfied that she had said something that was reassuring. My thought was the trail we were hiking is well traveled, and bears really don’t care about people unless we get too close or decide to photograph their cubs and none of us would do that! I have seen people try to feed bears in the Smokies and thought it was pretty unwise.
Here’s the first notch we came to, and I felt like it was a sign of things to come. It was!
The next turn offered a rocky climb UP!
A couple of times, we actually hiked along a very pleasant trail.
Then things quickly changed from easy to strenuous. The “green” on the ground is evidence of the aftermath of the recent hurricane. I was surprised to see this much damage since we had very little wind in northeast Georgia.
We kept climbing up. There’s not a higher place this side of the Mississippi River than Mt. Mitchell so all we could do was go up!
This photo really doesn’t show the height or the depth of drop off on the other side that we had to scramble down. We even discovered a thick rope attached to a nearby tree that I used to drop down on to the trail.
We crossed over springs and could hear a waterfall in the distance. I had to talk Anne into sitting down—I think all we really wanted to do at this point was to keep hiking.
Finally, we got a glimpse of Mitchell’s summit. We had a little bit further to go!
Not knowing if we would make it or not, I thought this would be a great place for a photograph. In my book, North Carolina is known for its rocky hikes, and Mt. Mitchell must be a crowning jewel of tough trails.
Rest stop—water and hiker’s snacks. Plus a photo op!
Pat points out lichen on the rocks—adding lots of character to the trail. We continued to hike over downed limbs and past trees that were blown down.
After a short discussion, we decided that we had hiked more than enough to be accredited for this mountain peak. Clouds drifted in and began to cover nearby mountain peaks.
At the summit, I found the official marker. My shoes came away with lots of mud on them from the trail. I vowed to wear my leather Keens next time. Yes, we’ll return to this “bad boy,” and we’ll complete the four mile loop.
At this point, I was satisfied to stand on the top, take photographs to send into the App Society and think about returning to the Balsam house to grill steaks! As a friend said to me a few weeks ago: “There is a ying to my yang.” LOL!
A parting shot: I took this photo at the top of Mt. Mitchell and couldn’t help but think of Grandma Gatewood—the woman, who first hiked the Appalachian Trail at age 67. She hiked the AT wearing only Keds tennis shoes. She carried an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain in a homemade denim bag slung over one shoulder. She would later say “For some fool reason, they always lead you right up over the biggest rock to the top of the biggest mountain they can find.” Yes, her first hike. She went on to hike the AT another 3 times and also hike 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail. She was still hiking well into her 80’s and her gear was far from what we use today!