The difference in weather between my last Mt. Mitchell trip which was a week earlier in May and this trip wasn’t much because we got a good portion of rain, again! But, we had just enough dry in between rains this time to make it a more enjoyable trip which was okay by me because rain combined with 60 degrees up on Mt. Mitchell can be a bit chilly.
Now, we did the same loop as last time which starts at Carolina Hemlocks campground and follows Colbert Ridge trail up to deep gap where it meets up with Black Mountain Crest trail. It costs $5.00 per day to camp there so our total was $15.00 for this hike. I’d like to do this hike and add an additional day for a last night at Carolina Hemlocks campground because it’s a gorgeous place. I highly recommend checking it out – it’s a small campground if compared to a lot of places I’ve stayed but it’s very nice and for another $5.00 you can take a shower after the hike. This loop requires a short mile road walk at the beginning of the hike and about a 2 mile road walk at the end of the hike.
There is another route we have discussed doing at some time that requires two vehicles and follows the Black Mountain Crest trail from the beginning and ends at Mt. Mitchell. We intend to do this hike sometime but the loop is just a easier hike logistically speaking.
This was Memorial weekend so it ended up being very crowded up at Deep Gap. I hadn’t considered this because last year we were a week earlier and we had the place to ourselves. Well, this time when we finally reached the first part of deep gap it was packed with a boy scout troop and I heard another group of hikers not far away so we grabbed the first open campsite we could find which was just barely big enough for the three of us.
One of the cool things about this trip was a chance to try out my new Luminaid Packlite Nova which is outstanding! Mine is the older version that has been replaced by the new version with a usb port here, Luminaid Packlite Nova USB. I’m really digging these inflatable lanterns – these things are incredible! So much light from such a lightweight little light! I have and have had many different types of lanterns ranging from Coleman gas to triple A lanterns and this inflatable lantern beats them all with overall light to weight ratio. And this new version
This time around we had no rain the first day (Saturday) until the evening around midnight, when the winds picked up and brought a pretty awesome thunderstorm in for a few hours of fun. During which time I thought for sure my tarp was coming down because the winds were howling. This made for an outstanding dinner with friends and calm clear weather. The storm passed after a few hours and we were back to calm weather by morning.
We learned of another water source on this trip that we were unaware of on the last trip. Apparently there is a water source at the far end of deep gap and it’s pretty reliable. We got our water about 1/4 mile down Colbert Ridge trail because deep gap is actually dry, or at least we thought it was up until now. We will check it out next time.
The next morning we headed out around 9:30 – we had around 4 – 5 miles of pretty hard trail to get to the restaurant and some pretty good food. Fortunately, it was another excellent day for hiking with beautiful weather and clear skies for awesome views. This is a pretty tough day because it’s constantly up and down each peak and there are some pretty steep short sections that actually have ropes to assist.
Once you start seeing crushed stone on the trail you know you’re getting close to the picnic area. You hit the stairs from hell that seem to climb forever but after you get to the top of them the picnic outbuildings are right there. The picnic outbuildings are very cool and enclose some of the picnic tables to keep you out of the elements if you’re there for a picnic. A little further past that and you hit the main parking lot for the gift shop and courthouse/viewing area for Mt. Mitchell. It was pretty crowded when we got there so not much room on the viewing area but we stopped long enough to get a pic by the main sign and take in some of the views. The views were phenomenal due to the extremely clear weather and you could actually see Hawskbill and Shortoff Mountains at Linville Gorge. It was awesome!
On the way up the walk to the viewing area you pass a small building that is a wildlife learning center of some kind. We stopped in last year and checked it out and it’s pretty typical with stuffed wild animals and I believe they have classes for young people.
We finally arrived at the restaurant just before the dinner rush and settled down for a nice meal. Right after we were seated the crowds started pouring in so it’s a good idea to get there before 4:30 pm for dinner. The food is pretty darn good and they serve a local trout that’s great. If you ask them nicely they will fill up your water at the soda fountain. These people are really nice!
The “meadow” is where we spent night two and it’s just as it’s name implies, a meadow. This trip the meadow was pretty packed which is much different than last year. Fortunately there is a ton of room and we had no trouble finding a nice area to camp in that was flat. The meadow is clear of trees but adjacent to the meadow in the woods there are tons of more campsites. One thing that is unfortunate is that this is very close to the parking lot (downhill about 1/2 mile I think) so there is an unbelievable amount of trash that people have left behind. Lot’s of canned food so you know that whomever left it behind hiked a very short distance with it. It’s pretty sad to see such a beautiful place spoiled by a lot of trash.
There is a decent water source just past the meadow along the Buncombe Horse Range trail. It’s a very nice creek with a pretty good flow that crosses the trail. Both times we’ve been there it has had a very strong flow so I’m pretty confident this will always be an available water source.
After the meadow the Buncombe Horse Range can get pretty interesting between the views and the numerous mud puddles or um wallows. Some of these require some pretty fancy footwork to get around because the mud is deep, even without a constant downpour and takes up the entire trail, making you have to skirmish off the sides of the trail to keep from going knee-deep in the muck. But the views are tremendous!
We collected a good bit of firewood but then it immediately started raining – and kept raining long enough to soak the wood. It just kept raining the rest of the evening but that didn’t stop us from attempting to get a fire started. We managed to kind of get a fire started but it would only burn the small stuff and just couldn’t dry out the bigger stuff so it was not a sustainable fire. We worked on it for an hour and then said done! lol
The hike along the Buncombe goes on for quite a while with constant views of the valley below and mountains in the distance. It’s pretty incredible but it gets even better. After a while you take a right and head onto a tighter trail for hikers that winds through Birch, cherry and oaks. We actually flushed several grouse at the beginning of this trail – really cool! After a bit the trail crosses into a spruce-fir forest that opens up and makes for a really incredible area.
The next section of the trail veers back into a hardwood forest and follows a wider trail that I believe to be an old railroad. I think most of the Buncombe Horse Range is built on an old railroad for logging and you can find some evidence with old cables. I believe this was used to haul timber down the mountain.
This is a gorgeous section of the trail but it is quite a long hike on rocky horse trail which can get to you after awhile. Either way it’s probably my favorite section of this hike.
Below is the Toe River – it flows past or on the edge of the Carolina Hemlocks campground and is a really pretty river. Just upstream of where we crossed they actually dug out a section to create a pool in the river right next to the campground. We didn’t have to ford the river but it was an additional adventure and it saved us 3/4 mile of road walking. 🙂