The start of Another Weekend Frenzy
Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
Elevation – 6684
Summit Date: 2/8/13
This week had been one of the longest work weeks of my life. I had started up a CrossFit location at my YMCA, in addition to taking on another part time job. This meant 5:30am to 7:00pm hours while getting the gym started and then fitting in writing at night. It was time to escape, forget it all, and have an adventure. I struggled to get ready after the long day, mentally dragging, and wishing I could just sleep all weekend. However I knew I would be much happier if I went for it. I thought of sleeping at home and taking off the next morning but stuck to the plan. Starting the drive at 7:00pm I was committing to a 5 hour drive down to North Carolina to camp in 20 degree weather. It seems that this has been my magic temperature for hiking trips. Cold enough to make it hard but not enough to stop you.
I arrived at roughly 12:00pm to the camp site. National Forest camp grounds are always interesting because they are notoriously hard to find, and during many months of the year they are technically closed. This means a gate is shut, the showers are locked, but you still have many hikers toughing out the harsher weather.
I carried out a tent, sleeping bag, and pads over to the camping area. The tent went up easily and rolled everything inside. As soon as the sleeping gear arranged it was lights out. I slept like a log, only waking roll over to a different side. I was no longer used to sleeping on the ground after just a month in by bed. (Dec/Jan I had spent 16 days rafting the Grand Canyon on an expidition.) The sun filled the tent with a bright light around 7:30 waking me up. The best trick I’ve learned for cold weather camping or trying to sleep in is to take an extra fleece blanket. Once inside your sleeping back wrap it around your neck, leaving extra space to be able to roll over, cover the hole of your sleeping bag and drape the rest over your chest. It will shield you from a cold night better than anything else I know of.
Plans were to “armchair hike” Mount Mitchell by driving to the top parking lot and hiking the last half mile in. I could then get on the road early and spend some quality time hiking in South Carolina without having to rush there before the sun got down. Soon the plans were changed for me as the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed going southbound. The best option was to head back to the campground and hike the 12 mile round trip trail, with 3,700 feet of elevation gain, and then loss. The morning started to warm up as I put on my gear, over preparing because of what I had read online. Summitpost.org is a reliable website for hiking information, covering everything you need to know for most hikes in the United States. It was reported climbers in winter should be prepared for up to 2+ feet of snow, and that winds often reach 100+ mph on the west face. Also the lowest temperatures had been recorded as -34 degrees Fahrenheit. I would be much more fortunate on this hike.
The trail started off along a river and then soon turned uphill. It would wind back and forth with switchback after switchback the entire time. It would be a relentless hike. I was roughly 15 minutes into the trip and stopped to shed a layer. Right after I started to hike again, SNAP, BANG, BANG, BOOM, and it was over as suddenly as it started. A huge tree had fallen right across the path no less than 30 yards in front of me. It must have been 80 feet high and 3 feet in diameter at the base. The most shocking thing was the tremor it sent forth. I climbed on top of the fallen tree to examine it. It dawned upon me then. This tree fell so quickly and only made noise as it crashed through others near the end. Even if I had seen it coming there was little chance to get out of the way, I could have been crushed and killed right then.
I kept moving as quickly as my burning calves would allow. Roughly 2 miles into the hike snow began to form in patches, and then it covered the entire trail. From here it would be a mixture between snow, slush, and ice. It would get steadily deeper the higher I climbed. Near the summit there were sections of 10-12 inches. I made steady progress. In three and a half hours we reached the summit. The fatigue and hunger set in immediately. This hike was going to make much longer than I had allotted for. South Carolina was questionable now. The view from the top however was incredible. The skies were clear without a single cloud. I did however have to remember that this was only the halfway point.
Progress down was much quicker than the trip up. The long days and miles had worn on me. I arrived back to the campsite at 4:30. It was going to be far too late to get to South Carolina today too. The thought of home was overpowering and decided to play it smart. I would get home later than night and have a day to rest before driving back into another 60-70 hour work week. It may not be the fun decision but it was the right one for that day. That was confirmed waking up the next morning in bed to coffee and blueberry pancakes with berry syrup.