Months ago, we targeted spring break for two things: adventure racing and highpointing. For the first time in seven years, our spring breaks overlapped, so we decided to head south for some warm weather and southern adventure. After a successful race in the swamps of coastal South Carolina, we set our sights inland to higher and drier ground. Originally we contemplated hitting four or five peaks, but we decided we needed a more leisurely week between our race in South Carolina and Tennessee, so we focused our attention on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina and Tennessee’s Clingman’s Dome, which sits upon the border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
After two days of recovery, we loaded up our packs and set off for Mount Mitchell, about an hour northeast of Asheville. After driving the windy heights of the Blue Ridge Parkway and searching a bit for the trailhead, we found ourselves at the Black Mountain Campground in the depths of a mountain valley in Pisgah National Forest. We began trekking, and after a nice ramble along the creek, the trail began climbing, and it just kept climbing for the next three hours.
The route spanned six miles each way and roughly 3,700 feet of elevation gain, but it felt like 15 miles at least. As Abby climbed easily, I wheezed and stumbled, my legs heavy and listless, my breathing labored and heart-rate elevated. When Abby mentioned altitude, I laughed at first before realizing that my lethargy could, in fact, be attributed in part to the rapid elevation gain. But I suspect I was mostly impaired by the lactic acid still coursing through my legs from the weekend’s race in South Carolina.
After finding a sustainable, if slow, pace, we steadily climbed the mountain, traipsing through beautiful alpine groves and crossing gurgling creeks and idyllic if diminutive cascades.
After a final stretch of trail, meandering through moss draped trees and downed logs, we emerged at the top of Mount Mitchell, our twelfth high point at 6,684 feet, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. As has been true of most of the highpoints to date, a road allows visitors to reach the summit without having to hike, but surprisingly few people had made the trip to the lofty mountaintop.
We enjoyed the quiet break at the top, sitting upon the circular viewing platform, taking pictures and taking in the view of the surrounding mountain range as thunder rumbled on the darkening horizon.
The obligatory posed shot
With raindrops beginning to splash about us, we set off for the descent, electing to take some different trails when possible. The return passed quickly, and after I lounged beside the creek at the Black Mountain Campground, soaking my feet in the icy mountain water, we drove back to Asheville, discussing what we would do for “lucky” 13.