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 Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016 
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 Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
I had been wanting to hike these two peaks for a long, long time, and on Memorial Day weekend 2016, I finally accomplished that goal. Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig are the two highest mountains in the eastern USA; their elevations are 6,684 feet and 6,647 feet, respectively.

I got up very early Saturday morning (1:30 AM), tied up some loose ends, and hit the road at 1:50 AM. Ended up refueling three times- once in New Jersey (where I forgot that you still can't pump your own gasoline) and twice in Virginia. Despite it being Memorial Day weekend, the highways were almost deserted up until I got to Pennsylvania. After that, the traffic got steadily heavier, but still moving at a good clip. In fact, the only issue with traffic on the whole drive there was in NJ, where cops blocked I-287 southbound for a few minutes because of a nasty rollover crash involving a Hummer H2 towing a camper trailer :shock: .

Once into Tennessee on I-26, the drive became a lot more scenic. The first of many mountains revealed themselves, and I even drove to almost 4,000 feet on the highway :D . Soon after, I made the descent down to the city of Asheville, where my base of operations (a.k.a. hotel room) awaited. Eventually, I rolled into town and arrived at the hotel, at 5:50 PM, 16 hours after leaving NH.

The next day, I was feeling like a million bucks despite the previous day's long drive, plus the weather looked good, so I decided to hike Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Craig then. Got some breakfast early and headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is an absolutely beautiful road. Haven't been on anything like it- at one point, I was driving 50 MPH at almost 5,500 feet above sea level :shock: . It was all good though. After passing the road to the summit, I turned left onto South Tow River Rd. and dropped down to Black Mountain Campground, where I started my hike. The plan was an out and back to Mitchell and Craig from BMC. Official start time: 8:15 AM.

From the parking area, I followed campground roads to the start proper of the Mt. Mitchell Trail. From there, it was 5.6 miles to the 6,684 ft. summit. Pretty much the whole time, the trail was full of switchbacks, and therefore grades were easy to moderate. Down low, wildflowers were starting to bloom, which made for great pics. About 1/3 of the way up, the trail forked; I stayed right. Not long after, the two splits rejoined, then I made a more moderate climb to the junction with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, criss-crossing a power line swath in the process. From the junction, it was a steady 1.6 mile climb through spruce-fir woods into the state park and past some tourist paths to the summit.

The summit of Mt. Mitchell has the signature sign, the tomb of Dr. Mitchell, and an observation deck. Spent a while here and then continued to Mt. Craig.

From the summit of Mt. Mitchell, I crossed the road and parking area to begin my hike on the Deep Gap Trail to the summit. The Deep Gap Trail started out rather mellow, passing some picnic benches early on. Not long after leaving the hustle and bustle, the trail became steep and rough in places- more so than the Mt. Mitchell Trail. Dropped down to the col, then made a steady climb to the partially open summit, where excellent views to the south and east were had. Spent a little while here, then headed back to Mitchell for a victory break (and some delicious strawberry cider- really hit the spot :D ), then headed back down the way I came.

On the way back to Asheville, I stopped at the Craggy Dome outlook (elev. 5,680') and did a short 1.4 mile side hike to an outlook on a knob called Craggy Pinnacle. Great view from the top, and it's a great place for anyone to stretch their legs. Got some food, then turned in for the night. Ate breakfast at the hotel, then hit the road at 6:15 AM for the 15 hour 35 minute drive back, which included two stops for gas and one stop at White Castle in NJ :mrgreen: .

So yea, this trip was very similar to the one Granite Guy and friends did last year. We both left Saturday, hiked Sunday, went back Monday. Only difference is that I technically did two hikes (Mitchell and Craig plus that side hike to Craggy Pinnacle), so GG still holds the Hike-NH record for longest drive for one hike :wink: .

This place was different from the Whites, but in a good way. The vegetation was different, and the trails were in general smoother and less rough. The views from the top also did remind me of why there are called the Blue Ridge Mountains- overcast skies and haze really bring out their blue tint. Dunno when the next time I come back will be, but if I do come back, Clingmans Dome and/or Mt. LeConte are next. If I drive there and back again, though , I might look into getting a rental car to cut down on the mileage of my daily driver (82,000 and counting). The Mitchell hike was 13.2 miles with 4,200 ft. of elevation gain, and the side hike was 1.4 with 200 ft. of gain, thus bringing the grand total to 14.6 miles and 4,400 ft. of gain.

Image

Video recap of the adventure:
https://youtu.be/Ke-VyVjL5is

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Tue May 31, 2016 10:51 am
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Some day I ought to head down there too, but for more than 1 day! I was in Asheville ~15 years ago for most of a week, but there was no time for hiking. A nice area though, nicely done.

That said, you guys and your drive a bazillion hours for one hike insanity ;) If you go back, spend a few days! It makes the mileage put on the "daily driver" more palatable that way.

169,500 mi and counting on mine, 80k of that in the last 5 years ;)

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Tue May 31, 2016 11:37 am
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Dude, great hike for real!

But you're crazy. White Castle? If you drink untreated mountain water and come down with loose bowels, at least you have nature's restroom any significant distance off-trail. But on the NJ turnpike? Now THAT'S risky!


Tue May 31, 2016 1:22 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Matt: Had I been with a group of friends or reserved more nights, I would have definitely stayed longer. Incentive to go back :D !

Grindboy: I drove from that White Castle to my house straight through (325 miles), literally without stopping for anything, and fortunately I didn't have the aforementioned loose bowels :lol: .

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Tue May 31, 2016 1:55 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
It was weird watching your video. It brought back some memories . The rhododendrons seemed to be somewhat in bloom there when you went. I do remember enjoying a cappuccino at the top. I remember it being a different feel to the hike down there there was something familiar however. The rocks were the same as n. Presi rocks. With the lichen and all that on them. I can't believe you drove the whole way yourself though. Woof! How many albums did you listen to? I remember the trail being fairly easy in comparison to what we have here. No steep deacents/ascents down ravines. We did see ropes on a completely unnecessary scramble down a rock beyond Craig. It's a cool adventure going that far away though. We saw some stupid stuff with that many miles on the road.


Tue May 31, 2016 10:14 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Other has fallen into the GG, "No distance is too far for 1 hike" mentality. :roll: :lol: :wink:

It is cool to be on the highest, Peak of the East. Love the vegetation down that way. Very cool. But 32+ hours of driving for 1 hike? Oy Vey! :)

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Wed Jun 01, 2016 4:43 am
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Get it out of your system now before you are married!!!!!!!!! :)

Good for you to have the endurance to do this.

Greg

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Wed Jun 01, 2016 4:23 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Peter: Even though I drove the whole way myself, I wasn't all that beat! Felt like a million bucks when I got to the hotel room. And yea, I pretty much listened to every song on my iPod. Going back home, when I got to the MassPike, I was so sick of listening to iPod music that I turned on the radio to Rock 101 :lol: . Also found out I still have Sirius XM Radio in my car, which I thought expired a LONG time ago :mrgreen: .

Joe: Technically, it was for two hikes :wink: . But yea, when I was driving there and back, I said at times, "I'm actually doing this?!" :lol: .

Greg: LOL at that first sentence!

I thought for sure that when I got to my hotel room after driving all that way, I'd be in bed faster than you can say "Mt. Mitchell". Actually was up and about for 5 hours afterward.

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Wed Jun 01, 2016 6:41 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Finally got to see the whole video. Looks like you had a nice trip. I really wish the rhododendrons were blooming for us last year when we hiked in the area. We were only 3 weeks earlier than you but no luck. It was a fun 3 days though and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Yeah, it's a long three days too for one hike if that's the only goal but it was as much about the experience for me as the hike itself. There was sight seeing, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, a quick zip through Shenandoah and a lot more minutiae that, for me, makes road trips (and even long drives for any hike) an unbeatable experience. Given the choice I'd pick something like this in a heartbeat over a 3 hour ride to day hike Waumbek, no doubt about it.

Oh, and we may still have the longest drive for one hike (Foamhenge doesn't count I guess! :D ) but we did hike more miles than your two hikes and got more summits so that's a badge I'll wear proudly! :wink: And there's no question you get the award for longest drive for a solo hike. I've never gone farther than Acadia without company.


Wed Jun 01, 2016 9:30 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Prema is still in culture shock over what 6k looks like down south! We enjoyed the video, hope to go someday!


Thu Jun 02, 2016 8:52 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
GG: The drive there wasn't that bad, surprisingly. Going back was brutal though. Easily around 5-6 traffic jams, all relatively close to NYC, and the usual 30-over traffic on I-95 once in CT. Plus, in VA alone, I saw about 20-30 cops, whereas every other state I drove through had almost zip.

But still, I'll proudly wear the "longest drive for a solo hike" badge until someone beats me 8) !

Beckie & Prema: It's a great area for sure, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gem of a road. And yea, 6,000 feet in NC looks a lot different than 6,000 feet in NH :shock: .

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Fri Jun 03, 2016 7:52 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
hiker0200 wrote:
Easily around 5-6 traffic jams, all relatively close to NYC, and the usual 30-over traffic on I-95 once in CT. Plus, in VA alone, I saw about 20-30 cops, whereas every other state I drove through had almost zip.


Too late for you, but fwiw, I NEVER take 95 through NYC/Conn. I head down to/through NJ 2-3 times/year, and always take 84-684-287, across the Tappan Zee Bridge. That will dump you onto the Garden State Parkway, which you can take down to the Jersey Turnpike (I-95), and there are no semis allowed on the Parkway! There is still traffic at times on the 684/287 stretch, but nothing like the city proper. If I was driving through there stupid early, such as on your trip down, I would consider it, but never during daylight!

As for cops, I-90 through NY is fairly notorious, particularly between Albany and Syracuse. As I do the trip to Rochester several times a year, I'm well familiar with it, and I rarely see fewer than a dozen, and often more like 2-3 dozen, state troopers along that stretch in various spots.

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Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:13 am
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Anyone hiking in the Blacks/Smokies should be nowhere near NJ or NYC. Go out through PA/MD/WV/VA on 84/81/64 or something like that. It avoids all the traffic and saves 90 bucks in tolls over the eastern route, at least the way I did it once with 50 bucks in tolls along the way. That other route has about 8 bucks in tolls round trip, less traffic, less cities. Google maps says it's a tad longer drive time, but without traffic jams it's faster, more scenic and save almost enough money to pay for the gas.


Sat Jun 04, 2016 9:51 am
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Matt/GG: I didn't go through NYC- I took I-95 to I-287 across the Tappan Zee Bridge into NJ, to I-78 into Pennsylvania. Reverse going back home. The tolls weren't that expensive, either- maybe less than $20 roundtrip. There was a toll on the MassPike and a toll on 287 both ways, and one toll on I-78 in Pennsylvania. Probably not even $20 in tolls roundtrip.

Believe me, I've read the horror stories of driving through NYC :shock: :wink:

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Sat Jun 04, 2016 6:47 pm
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 Re: Mounts Mitchell and Craig, North Carolina- 5/29/2016
Granite Guy wrote:
Anyone hiking in the Blacks/Smokies should be nowhere near NJ or NYC. Go out through PA/MD/WV/VA on 84/81/64 or something like that. It avoids all the traffic and saves 90 bucks in tolls over the eastern route, at least the way I did it once with 50 bucks in tolls along the way. That other route has about 8 bucks in tolls round trip, less traffic, less cities. Google maps says it's a tad longer drive time, but without traffic jams it's faster, more scenic and save almost enough money to pay for the gas.



We did this to get to Charles Town WV in March and I would do it again. I grew up in the Poconos and went to school in DC, so that brought back a lot of memories. Culture shock on 81 for Prema "Huge open spaces with mountains in the background, not like at home!"


Sat Jun 04, 2016 9:56 pm
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