Hiking Black Balsam Bald was a little different this year. Pat and I were determined to do it and we did, but Anne and Beth were not with us. Too much going on in our lives. Plus, this has been a rough four months for us and for our country. Yet we still climb.
The good news is that the bald and the mountains are right where they always have been!
As always, we started off hiking through the dense woods at the trailhead. These woods remind me so much of the ones near Roan Mountain. Lots of people camp here, but if I was going to do that, I would be on the top of Black Balsam with everyone else! Call it community!
Here’s my pitch for this area: First of all, it is a “must” hike, which is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420.2. This makes it about 26 miles from Asheville and about 8 miles from Waynesville. (From Toccoa, we always go to the Parkway entrance near Waynesville, NC.) If we can, we love to sneak a visit in to the city and wander around Mast General or eat at Sweet Onion!
What you need to know: this area includes some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians, including Black Balsam Knob (or Black Balsam Bald), Sam Knob and Tennent Mountain. These treeless mountaintops are located in the Pisgah National Forest and draw people from all over the country. There are plenty of straight ups but the views are so worthy of the journey.
In this area, especially, they are over 6,000 ft, and have what one lady told me “an alpine-like feel.” I don’t know about that, but I do know they are beautiful anytime of the day or night. I think we have hiked most of the balds but still there are many more mountain trails to hike!
The trail up is moderate in the beginning but more demanding as you go. You need strong hiking shoes in this area. I always pass people older than me coming down. On the way up, young families “leap frog” me at times because I’m always stopping to take photographs.
You see plenty of Balsam trees and realize where Black Balsam gets it’s name. This area is often not accessible in the winter due to ice and snow. (I’ve written plenty about that!) And people do get lost here. They totally got lost in the Shining Rock wilderness and the Forestry Service has to come find you! “Please God don’t let me get lost like that!” They bring out the helicopters to look for you!!! Yikes! Everyone sees and they even close the Parkway down for the search!!!
Once, I did get turned around coming back from Tennent last year and almost wanted to take a trail that I thought would lead back to a lower portion of Black Balsam. But nope; I didn’t do it!
I’m not sure what the guidelines are for camping along the bald but I have seen so many people doing it. In the evening, the mountain becomes a little “tent city.” Not too many people but just enough to make it all fun and welcoming.
This time we made it to the top of Black Balsam in about 25 minutes. I thought we had further to go, so when we got to the top, I asked, “Are we here?” That’s how easy this hike has become. Three years ago once I finished chemo, it was definitely not that quick of a hike.
Here’s another view of the trail leading up to Black Balsam. This time the rocky out cropping is included.
Black Balsam is in the back ground. I stood at this spot three years ago after completing chemo. I looked pretty much like I had “chemo-ed.” Pale, thin, and weak, but I remember thinking: “I can do this!” It was a great feeling then just like it is now. I can do it!
Pat, who is also cancer free! We celebrate every day!
Looking toward Tennent Mountain. I wanted to go back there but knew it was too long of a trek for this trip.
This is where people do get lost. They get off the main trails. This area has taught me to include things in my day pack that are framed with thoughts of survival—plenty of water, energy bars, thin tarp, and other essentials for surprises that we never think will happen—like sudden downpours with thunder and lightening. After all, open balds are targets for summer storms. Just say Max Patch!! The weather along the Blue Ridge Parkway is ever-changing.
See these little paths? It’s okay to check these out but make sure you know your way back to the main path that has trail markers. Recently, a family became lost in the Shining Rock Wilderness because they took the wrong turn on their way back from Tennent Mountain while walking along the Art Loeb Trail.
Pat on the trail that leads to Tennent. There is a natural high that comes from hiking in this area! You can’t help but smile.
Finally, I just wanted to include a photograph of the sunlight through the tall grasses that line certain areas along the paths. These are always so welcoming to me.