Mountain Hiking

by Harold Sears

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Mt. Mitchell

Looking back toward Mt. MitchellThe road through Mt. Mitchell State Park winds up the mountain and around to its north side, so we got out of the car with the peak at our backs.  We shouldered our daypacks and walked north, away from the mountaintop.  It was a beautiful Saturday in November, cool, soft breezes, blue sky.  We walked through a picnic area and on down the ridge trail.

Mt. Mitchell is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River, at 6,684 feet, so we were walking through what seemed like northern forests, maybe Maine or Vermont.  The way was rocky, and the smell of balsam fir was heavy in the air.  These woods were thick and shady, the trees close together, low branches intertwined.  Off the trail, fallen logs were piled and tumbled, one on another.  Decay was obviously slow up here.  There was thick moss and frothy lichen over everything.  I would really hate to have to bushwhack off through that tangle, alone and without a trail, but I suppose that's exactly what Mr. Mitchell had to have done, as he explored and measured these elevations.

The ridgeline is sharp, with steep slopes off to the east and west, and it continues to the north, down into a saddle and then up again to the top of Big Tom, only a little lower than Mt. Mitchell, at about 6,640 feet.  The top of Big Tom was rocky and bare with views all around.  The mountains and valleys continue as far as you can see.

We descended from Big Tom and then turned east on a side trail.  The main trail continues to the north for many miles, and it would be great to see where it goes, but we can't fit that in today.  We climbed down off the ridge, through open fields, until we met a horse trail running north-south.  We headed back south on that as the afternoon waned and then up through firs and spruce and finally to the top of Mt. Mitchell.  We had started the day only a few hundred feet from the top and had certainly taken the long way around to get there, but a five-minute walk wouldn't have been much of a hike.

On the ridgeAs we approached the parking lot at about 5:30 p.m., there was a little excitement as we realized that the park would close and the gates would be locked at 6 p.m., but I still had to run up to the top, climb the observation tower, and admire the setting sun.  There was the ridgeline and Big Tom and dozens and hundreds of other ridges and mountains spread out before me.  To the west the dark orange disk of the sun was slipping behind that last ridge.  Wisps of cloud were glowing red.  Dumb luck, but it was perfect timing for the end of a beautiful day.

Looking north from Mt. Mitchell


Cautionary Note -- If any of the hikes described on this site sound like something you would like to do yourself, please use good judgment and prepare yourself according to your skills, your interests, and the season. What was fun for me under one set of circumstances might not be fun or even safe for another under other circumstances. Do not consider these descriptions to be unqualified recommendations.

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Harold and Meredith Sears, Boulder, CO, All rights reserved.

This page was last modified on 8/16/09