Hike America #2 – Mount Mitchell, NC

Mount Mitchell is the second trek in my Hike America series. I’ve always wanted to visit every state, but I’ve only made it to about half of them. What better way to see the country than to hike all across it. I plan to hike a major trail in each of the 50 states, typically to the highest point in each one.  Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the end!

This was probably one of the craziest ideas that I’ve had in a while. I set my alarm for 3:45 AM, as I planned to hit the road by 4:00 to make it near Mt. Mitchell by late morning. However, laying wide awake at 3:15 AM., I hopped out of bed, threw on my jeans and fleece, fed the always-hungry cats, and hit the road into the pitch blackness by 3:30. Eventually, I stopped at McDonald’s for some coffee and oatmeal, as the sun had yet to rise outside of Durham, NC around 6:45.

Back on the road, the sun finally rose from behind, shining its beautiful golden rays onto the fall foliage. I caught up on some Tennessee sports talk that I had downloaded on my Ipod. I knew I would be missing the Tennessee-Alabama football game (a.k.a., The Third Saturday in October) later that evening. My beloved yet hapless Vols had no chance in the game, so I decided to spend my time gazing on more pleasant shades of orange and crimson.

Winding, narrow mountain roads lined with deep hues of orange, red, and yellow, finally gave way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few miles later, I arrived at the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park. From there, it’s a steep, three mile incline to the parking area near the highest point east of the Mississippi. Once into the park, the wind howled and blew in a deep chill along with bulky white blankets that consume all sunlight. A few minutes later, bright light beamed down once again from the suns rays, which thankfully remained for most of the hike.

I met up with my friend and North Carolina native Grayson Pope. It took us a while to find each other, as I kept going between the visitor’s center and ranger station. I eventually passed his shiny red N.C. State license tag, and thankfully he recognized me as I drove past.

We knocked the high point out of the way first. From the parking area, the Summit Trail up to the highest point east of the Mississippi is just 0.1 mile, but it will offer quite a steep incline on the way up. Mt. Mitchell offers an observation deck that provides a stunning 360-degree view of the Black Mountains. While most days tend to be foggy and overcast, the clouds had cleared out. We were blessed to be able to see the deep autumn colors for miles on end.

Heading down the mountain, we hiked about a 5-6 mile circuit by traveling along the Mountains to Sea Trail, which met up with the Buncome Horse Range Trail. We lost quite a bit of elevation, descending through the forest, eventually encountering three hikers who were in the midst of hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail all the way to the Outer Banks. The man who was ahead of the other two in his group said his wife was back out after breaking her ankle a few weeks prior. Now they were hiking all the way across North Carolina in one-week spurts. I love running into fellow, major-goal action-takers.

The trail’s namesake (Buncome Horse Range Trail) should have been a dead giveaway that our hiking boots would end up slightly muddier than before. After dodging some of the mud puddles and squishing our way through others, we stopped at a beautiful overlook for lunch.

One of the best parts of hiking is the time spent away from the hustle and bustle of life, a time to refresh, renew, and generate creative ideas. Grayson and I spent much of the day discussing our lives, goals, and dreams. I gain so much creativity through conversations along the trails, and this day was no different. Men need time to be rugged and adventuresome with fellow adventurers, as afterwards we return to our homes with much greater strength to offer our families. I would encourage you to take a few weekends per year to get away from it all.

We eventually caught up with the Big Tom Gap Trail, the one that caused us to wonder if we had gone insane. The trail literally went straight up the side of Big Tom Mountain, elevation 6580 feet. Winded, we took a moment to pause, catch our breaths, and gaze back at the spectacular views of fall foliage all around. After gaining several hundred feet in elevation, we finally reached the summit of our second 6500 foot mountain, but it wouldn’t be the last.

To get back to the Mt. Mitchell parking area, we crossed over Mt. Craig along the Deep Gap Trail,  and at 6647 feet in elevation, the summit measures as the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mt. Craig offers additional incredible views of the southern parts Black Mountains. We hit the Deep Gap Trail back to the parking area at Mt. Mitchell.

Three 6500 foot-plus peaks in one day – quite a an accomplishment. And as I flipped on the radio on the ride home and listened through the static to my alma mater Tennessee lose 41-13, I knew I had made the right choice. I eventually flipped the radio to the Duke-North Carolina football game.